I’ve been a huge fan of Martin Amis’s writing ever since I discovered him and read his back catalog in the 1990s. What I love about his work is that he never pulls back from his self-loathing instincts. More than any other novelist, he describes in minute detail the horrors of inhabiting human flesh, and even his youthful novels are obsessed with documenting bodily corruption and decay.
The Pregnant Widow is unfortunately a disappointment. Amis pulls back on the self-loathing, and he shies away from the horrors of the flesh. Perhaps this was inevitable, given the setting for the book (1970), the fact that the main characters are all in their 20s, and that the male protagonist Keith Nearing is once again only a lightly disguised version of the now 60-ish Martin Amis, and the middle-aged and elderly tend to romanticize youth.
There are some good lines about aging and the prospect of death, however, that are vintage Amis:
When you become old. . . When you become old, you find yourself auditioning for the role of a lifetime; then, after interminable rehersals, you’re finally starring in a horror film–a talentless, irresponsible, and above all low-budget horror film, in which (as is the way with horror films) they’re saving the worst for last. (5)
That’s good, no? I also liked this description of middle age:
This is the way it goes. In your mid-forties you have your first crisis of mortality (death will not ignore me); and ten years later you have your first crisis of age (my body whispers that death is already intrigued by me). But something very interesting happens to you in between.
As the fiftieth birthday approaches, you get the sense that your life is thinning out, and will continue to thin out, until it thins out into nothing. And you sometimes say to yourself: That went by a bit quick. That went a bit quick. In certain moods, you may want to put it rather more forcefully. As in: OY!! THAT went a BIT F*CKING QUICK!!!. . . Then fifty comes and goes, and fifty-one, and fifty-two. And life thickens out again. Because there is now an enormous and unsuspected presence within your being, like an undiscovered continent. This is the past. (5)
I like those last two sentences especically. Amis is a novelist who has been increasingly drawn to writing about the past in historical novels, so this interest in the past is nothing new on his part. (He also unfortunately has become something of a neoconservative in the past decade, along with his old chum Christopher Hitchens, and has written a number of essays that blather on about “Islamofascism,” but the adults in this household ignore those in favor of the more timeless insights found in his fiction.)
This tracks with something Rad Readr, an old friend, warned me about a few years ago as I was staring down the barrel of 40: “No one gets out of the 40s without a major crisis.” So far, I’d have to say that he’s right. Here are the crises that my friends have faced in their 40s: breast cancer, marital trouble, divorce, professional disappointment, prolonged unemployment. This is just a random sample, but you get the picture.
As far as a novel about the sexual revolution, it’s clear that Amis published that book in 1973 in media res. If you want to read an Amis novel about the early 1970s, read his first novel The Rachel Papers, and skip The Pregnant Widow.
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