Almost Amis

On Friday night I visited the office of n+1 in Dumbo, where editor and novelist Benjamin Kunkel, who currently lives in Buenos Aires but set scenes in his novel Indecision not far from Mr. Amis’ new home, had just delivered a talk on the state of the South American left.

“There are many short writers in Brooklyn,” said n+1 editor Keith Gessen, author of the largely Brooklyn-set All the Sad Young Literary Men. “And we welcome him to our ranks. If he’s buying a large home, we’d all like to live with him.”

Mr. Amis’ new house is 5,300 square feet, four floors, 22 feet wide by 60 feet deep and at the time of purchase was configured as three separate apartments, with a minimum of eight total bedrooms.

“Does he garden?” asked the green-thumbed journalist Matthew Power, who lives in Prospect-Lefferts Gardens. If Mr. Amis practices horticulture, he now owns a garden to tend.

Contrary to Mr. Lin, who asserted that the best place to write is “at home,” Mr. Gessen advised Mr. Amis to work at the Starbucks on Court Street.

“It has a basement that’s very quiet,” he said. “Tell Martin. You can just buy one coffee and just go downstairs and spend eight hours there and there’s nobody who will bother you. It’s better than the Park Slope Starbucks. There’s fewer homeless people. There’s no visual distractions. It’s very nice there.”

Some n+1 interns and their friends, all Columbia undergraduates, were in attendance for Mr. Kunkel’s talk. I was curious if the youth still read Mr. Amis’ novels, so I cornered three of them.

“None,” said the first.

“None,” said the second.

“Two,” said the third. “The Rachel Papers and Money. Money is better than The Rachel Papers. The Rachel Papers hit closer to home because the protagonist was more like me. I was anxious about how I was being portrayed, about how I compared to the character, whereas Money was just mind-blowing.”

On Saturday night, I had dinner with my long-lost college girlfriend. “That was definitely your Martin Amis phase,” she said of our relationship.

Somehow during this phase–which followed a Nabokov phase, a Burroughs phase and a DeLillo phase, then yielded to a Roth phase, a Pynchon phase and a Moravia phase–I never read Money, but I read six novels, two story collections, the memoir and two books of journalism. With the exception of London Fields, which I reread last spring, I hadn’t been back to any of them in about a decade.

The seedy circa-1980 New York of Money is barely recognizable now. “In a way that’s a New York I don’t even know,” Ms. Egan, who moved to the city in 1987, told The Observer. “That was a really long time ago.”

“I hit a topless bar on Forty-Fourth,” says John Self, in one of Money‘s early scenes. “Ever check out one of these joints?” I never have, though one still persists, around the corner from my office, and whenever I pass by after 3 a.m. a prostitute asks first if she can buy a cigarette, then if I ‘wanna hang out, sweetie?’”

In a decade of living in Brooklyn, that happened to me on Seventh Avenue all of once. Mostly after dark you hear the voices of 40-something divorcees sitting on park benches, somehow flirting by talking about how much they miss their kids. You couldn’t write Money here today. The only possible reference to Brooklyn I found in the novel was a mention of a short film by John Self, titled Dean Street.

“Having been here for close to 20 years,” the English-born journalist Lawrence Osborne wrote The Observer in an email, “I’d say the arrival of Martin Amis is more baffling than game changing. Will it add to the already insufferable levels of comatose smugness and dullness? I can only pine for the days of anxiety and excitement. But writers, like drug addicts, have to live somewhere, I suppose.

“This is part of the neurotic exchange between New York and London, where London now feels like the horrible, bawdy, rasping New York of the 1980s, and New York feels like the genteel, provincial, slightly dopey Disneyland London of the same period. Having just come back from five months in London, I feel this. Brooklyn compared to Hoxton is kind of boringly sane–the bad food, the dead streets at night, the whispering beards.”

Around the time Mr. Amis purchased his brownstone in December, I was pondering, not for the first time since I moved here in 2000, leaving Brooklyn. “Money worries aren’t like other worries,” says John Self, “If you’re $10,000 in debt, it’s twice as worrying as being $5,000 in debt but only half as worrying as being $20,000 in debt. Being $10,000 in debt is three-sevenths as worrying as being $23,333 in debt. …  As of now, I don’t have any money. And this is really worrying.” Now this was my New York. But no longer. Next month I’m joining the neurotic exchange and moving to London, a city I mostly know through Mr. Amis’ books.

Brooklyn, of ample hills, is now his.

clorentzen@observer.com

Emily Witt contributed reporting.

 

 

Comments

  1. Amusing take on Martin Amis. Living in London I can tell you his rep is pretty much shot here (not that he’s been usurped – I would say the throne of Greatest Living British novelist is vacant) and his output is pretty much reduced to novellas published as novels via large type and wide spacing. He seems very happy – trouble is, to apply the Montherlant quote Amis himself has dropped more than once, ‘Happiness writes white.’

    Of his novels, must reads are Money (1984), London Fields (1989) and ‘The Information’ (1995) – IMO the rest you can leave. I think his memoir ‘Experience’ is great, as is the collection of criticism ‘The War Against Cliche’.

    I think you’ll find the Dean Street mentioned in ‘Money’ is a reference to the one in Soho, London.
    Not that Mr Amis will read this but if he does, Hey, you’re almost 62, ditch the short leather jacket! And while you’re at it, you can tell your old mucker Clive James to take the one he’s way too fond of sporting to the nearest clothes bank.