Monday, September 14, 2009

Martin Amis gets his very own 9-11

"The Second Plane"
by Martin Amis
ISBN No. 978-0-676-97785-1

It should have been so simple; an easy bet; a no-brainer: America 's greatest writer vs. the cultural context of 9-11.
And while most of reviewers have been kind to Amis' collection of essays and fictions about 9-11 I seriously suspect they didn't understand it - or read it all the way through. Because "The Second Plane" is a red herring; a book that must have been published when Amis' editors were still in shock. And the shock now is tenfold.
Certainly the book expands the vocabulary about 9-11 and anything by Amis is a welcome publishing event. But there are missteps (a looong what-if about one of the hijacker's last day). There is hard-to-remember political contextualizing (did he call them "radical Muslims"? "Irate Iranians"? Man, I cannot remember...). And then there are the curious words that seem to pop out of Amis' mind alone and stop the reader's eye cold and remind one of Dan Rather's homespun cornpone dialect. It’s like Amis was ahead of all the other writers trying to describe the image of the second plane hitting the towers juuuuuuust right; it’s a literary free-for-all (it’s kind of like the myth that Eskimos have 20 words for snow). It'll all make you wonder if Amis did indeed write his masterpiece"The Information" (one of the few books I took a highlighter to just to make it easier to get to those passages I wanted to read to friends over the phone) all on his own. (He does, however, include in "The Second Plane" a splendid piece about conspiracy theories.)
But 9-11 was a literary trap other august writers with pent-up dinner party pontifications were waiting to fall into. Don DeLillo and John Updike both wrote interesting failures ("Falling Man" and "Terrorist", respectively) and a relative newcomer, Jonathan Safran Foer, wrote one that was practically unreadable (“Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close”). Apparently the victims from 9-11 are still being counted.
All of which means that even America's finest writers are as confused and conflicted about 9-11 as the layman on the street which makes 9-11 even more disturbing than it was the day it happened.