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
“No, no,” he corrects me pityingly. “It’s called misleading you. I’m interested in the idea of setting up expectations and then deflecting them. Because, first of all, it’s enjoyable to do it, but also because it has some relationship to life, which sets up expectations and then that’s not how it goes!”
Having failed the analytical portion of my Lit Crit exam, I have a go at Compare and Contrast. In its more reflective passages, Fury recalls another novel about a foreign intellectual in New York — Saul Bellow’s Mr. Sammler’s Planet, published in 1970. It’s not often that you begin a book and are immediately reminded of another book, but this, I suggest to Rushdie, is one of those times.
“Well, yes, you’re right about that,” he concedes, explaining that although he knows the Bellow novel well, the similarity never occurred to him when he was writing Fury.
“Did somebody point this out to you?” I ask.
“No. I pointed it out. Like the day after I finished it. I thought, ‘Oh!’ And then I kind of worried about it: ‘Is that a problem?’ Then I thought, ‘No, fuck it, it is not a problem.’”
Rushdie’s right, of course. It isn’t a problem. The problem is that while Mr. Artur Sammler’s ruminations are gripping and profound, and provocatively at odds with the fashionable thinking of the era, Professor Malik Solanka’s feel tinny and superficial, not much different from those to be found inside any number of professorial heads parked inside overpriced Upper West Side apartments:
Who paved Paradise and put up a parking lot? Who settled for George W. Gush’s boredom and Al Bore’s gush? Who let Charlton Heston out of his cage and then asked why children were getting shot? What, America, of the Grail?
Presuming that Rushdie must have walked those streets as much as his protagonist, I ask him what he saw during his summer amid the economic frenzy of New York. What did this moment of “extreme excitement, great transformation” look like?
“I think what I felt was that it was oddly unhappy,” he replies. “This time of incredible national and economic and cultural success didn’t satisfy. And out of that dissatisfaction it was easy to see could come, and often did come, anger. So there was a little germ there for me to talk about. But at the same time, I wanted to suggest that this idea of fury is not just about anger. It’s also about creativity and passion, and I felt that also in that summer in New York. One of my views about people is that what we’ve done to socialize ourselves is to put around ourselves this little hard shell which is our civilized entities, but that beneath that is the covered wildness, which is what I call fury. Not only in a bad way — it’s the fury that changes the world, the fury that creates great art and passionate love. It’s ecstasy as much as rage.”
Rushdie has lived in Manhattan for about two years now. (Thanks to his girlfriend’s acting career, he also spends time in L.A.) I ask him if anything about life in the States has surprised him. The answer is: not really. Or rather, the surprises have been oddly trivial, Seinfeldian ones.
“You walk into a supermarket, everything is different. There are almost no familiar brands. Everything is differently packaged. You go to the toilet-paper section, and you don’t know which is the good toilet paper. In England I would know. At the most basic level, you have to re-learn the entire structure of everyday life. And that’s very difficult. It’s different in every respect — the way you pay taxes, the way you pay phone bills. The fact that you’re billed monthly instead of quarterly feels like an assault. If you’re used to having your bills coming every three months, the fact that they come every month feels rude! ‘What do you mean I owe you more money? I just paid you!’ At that level it’s very interesting, because you have to re-learn the most basic things. The big things are relatively easy. [The small] stuff is tough. Because your reference points are all different, your expectations are all different. In tiny ways — tiny but crucial.”
Or perhaps just very, very small.
Salman Rushdie reads fromFury at the Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 Sepulveda Blvd., on Friday, September 14, at 7:30 p.m. For info, call TKTK.Â
FURY | By SALMAN RUSHDIE Random House | 259 pages $25 hardcover