By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
The Television Program
Amis, I discovered during our lunch, had never heard of Napster. Nor did he seem to have any but the fuzziest notion of what e-books are. It was a signal illustration of how fast technology is moving: In Europe, news is still “Milosevic Says No to Opposition Talks”; here it’s “Students Now Spend 80 Percent of Their Lives Online.” But Amis quickly became interested when I explained to him that what’s been happening to musicians with Napster could conceivably start happening to writers with what Andrew Sullivan has pre-emptively (and wittily) called “Hackster.”
“It’s all of a piece, this,” Amis decided after I’d filled him in on the latest bulletins from cyberspace. Lunch was done, and he was preparing for his trip to the Valley with a double espresso and another crumpled cigarette. “There are these currents out there . . .” he began, thoughtfully removing a shred of tobacco from his tongue. “Democratization is the key word. On the Net, everyone’s a critic. That’s no longer a specialist job. If you’re a reader you’ve got feelings just like anyone else, â and the way you react to a book is just as important as anyone [else] . . . There can never be a complete democracy of the talents or the intellect, but there already is one of feelings.” (Or, as he put it in the Q&A period after the reading: “In the future, everyone will be famous all the time, but only inside their own heads.”)
Amis may not know Napster, but he does know television. A few days before I interviewed him, he was on Charlie Rose; a few days after I interviewed him, he was on 20/20. I missed Charlie Rose, and I would have missed 20/20, but at the last minute someone called to tell me he was on. I suspect Amis hopes that I did miss it. I suspect Amis hopes that anyone who has ever heard of Martin Amis or read one of his books or read any books at all, for that matter, missed it. Because, as a piece of marketing, the 20/20 “profile” was not aimed at the Amis fan. It was aimed at the emotions. The emotions of millions of Americans for whom the names Kingsley and Martin Amis mean very little, but for whom the words fatherand sonmean a great deal.
On 20/20, there was no talk of pornography. Nor of literature, for that matter. There was talk of feelings: It was emotional pornography. Bill Ritter, Amis’ virile interlocutor, smiled greasily at the camera and gestured with enormous hands, as if he might just strangle the author rather than interview him. Cowering in a corner, eyelashes palely blinking, Amis looked as if he hoped to get through his 15 minutes of network fame by going entirely unrecognized. Well, one likes to think of it that way. In fact, he quietly played his part. There was footage of Kingsley with his children. There was footage of Martin with his children. There was footage of Kingsley with his second wife. There was footage of Martin with his second wife. In front of one’s eyes, the book was reduced to the skeleton of its message: The son is the father, the father is the son. The segment ended with Amis reading a passage from Experience addressed to Kingsley after his father has visited him in a dream: “It was incredibly warming to see you, but I didn’t really need the reassurance about your wishes. Because my wishes are your wishes, and I am you and you are me.”
“What did you feel when you wrote that line?” Ritter asked.
“An emotional ruin,” Amis answered tremulously, jerking his head away as if he might actually shed his first televised tear. “But you are your dad and your dad is you, basically. That’s the essential fact.”
“Is that true for all of us?” Ritter asked softly, the epitome of all emotional voyeurism.
If Kingsley had been watching, Kingsley would have barfed. But then, they didn’t have book tours in Kingsley’s day. Nor did Kingsley have to negotiate all the ambiguities wrought by synergy. As we were reminded at the end of the show, Talk-Miramax, Amis’ publisher, is owned by the same company that owns ABC — Disney. And it was a few days before Father’s Day . . . The realization came that the publication date for Experience might actually have been set with Father’s Day in mind. Rather like a greeting card. No, Kingsley never had to deal with stuff like that. And his son’s Father’s Day message? “Accept your children completely. Forgive them completely and try to make them laugh.”
It is, after all, what Kingsley did for him.EXPERIENCE | By MARTIN AMIS | Talk/Miramax Books 406 pages | $24 hardcover