Martin Amis: Yellow Dog

Martin Amis
Yellow Dog
Talk Books

Rightist terrorcrats mocking John Kerry's "regime change" jokes as treason while Bruckheimer graphics light up a Pixar Baghdad behind them; cable execs collecting brain-damaged celebrities, feeding them to insulting scenarios, and packaging it as "the new Reality;" nation reconstruction as collaboration between warlord on horseback and Nebraskan officer-training-school CFO--surely I'm not the only one who thinks every morning's flick across the cable spectrum feels like a trailer for a new novel by Martin Amis?

The man himself has other targets in mind, though. And they turn out to be the same shot-speckled targets British highbrows have been working themselves up over since Evelyn Waugh screwed in his first earhorn. The royals and the tabloids get one more beating in Amis's Yellow Dog. The monarchy is represented by Henry England (Hal 9 to you Arthur C. Clarke fans), a miserable, mediocre sort who pays a great deal of possibly unwholesome attention to Princess Victoria. It is her naked trip to the bath that is about to be ejaculated across the multimedia promenade via tabloid, illicit download, and pay-per-view.

Tangentially related to this quasar of scandal is Clint Smoker, tabloid hack with an icky nose ring he licks and a wiener the size of a shriveled grape. (In the tabloid scenes, Amis tries to wed Waugh with the comedy stylings of Howard Stern and Jackass. Porn stars sport names like Sir Phallic Guinness, Sir Bony Hopkins, and--oh, dear--Sir Schlong Gielgud.) On the other side of London resides Xan Meo, who, despite his Chinese-sounding surname, walks and talks like a scar-faced ponce from a Guy Ritchie movie. It appears to have been Amis's intention to give Xan a barroom blow to the head that then turns him into James Mason in Bigger Than Life--a sadistic, messianic dad who scares the bejesus out of the kiddies.

But this supposedly blood-curdling transformation never quite happens. Or rather, we hear about it, but what we see is plainly innocuous. And despite the unparalleled felicities of Amis's cocksure, observant prose, there is no drama, no forward movement to the string-pulling of these marionettes. Amis lurches toward a big, theoretical-feeling theme--Is the lust of father for daughter the engine that drives our late-late-capitalist world?--but abandons it for the kind of pick-on-the-toffs satire that carries an unintentional mist of Swinging London nostalgia.

Passages of Yellow Dog made me screech with laughter in public places: a description of a bouncer's seven styles of Menacing Frown; Clint Smoker's USA Today-style byte-sized blurbs about rape cases ("This fifteen-year-old girl didn't 'try to provoke'? What was she wearing? A school uniform!"). Clearly in this mass of lifeless caricatures there is an attempt to grasp the fragile feeling of a new, post-safe cosmos. (A porn star, we are tiresomely told, shrugged at 9/11; she knew there was naught but a moral void in this dirty vale of tears.)

But Amis has no sooner made a haphazard sketch of that landminescape than he has denatured it with a series of unsatisfying happy endings, reaffirming daddy-love, home, and hearth. Dispatches sent down to him direct from the desk of Tina Brown, perhaps--if not from Citizen Weinstein himself?

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