The Rub of Time: Bellow, Nabokov, Hitchens, Travolta, Trump: Essays and Reportage, 1994–2017
by Martin Amis
Novelists, as a class, abhor reading criticism of their work, and with good reason—the only adequate account of a novel, at least for its author, is the one that lies between its covers. The experience of reading dissections of one’s work can be traumatizing, like watching a medical student hack …
I never had the “talk” with my parents. I had only the “book”: Portnoy’s Complaint, which one evening my mother, in a rare embarrassed flush, tossed in my direction before escaping to her bedroom, trailed by a rushed “You might get a kick out of that.”
During his early writing years in Chicago, Philip Roth began each morning by shouting at the young face peering out from the mirror at him: “Attack! Attack!” The force of Roth’s attack, sustained for more than a half-century, is what made his retirement so startling. It is also the quality that, more than anything, sustains his Why Write?: Collected Nonfiction 1960–2013.
Whether by design, chance, or oracular divination, Salman Rushdie has managed, within a year of the 2016 election, to publish the first novel of the Trumpian Era. On purely technical merits this is an astounding achievement, the literary equivalent of Katie Ledecky lapping the Olympic field in the 1500-meter freestyle. The publishing industry still operates at an aristocratic pace; Egypt built the new Suez Canal in less time than it typically takes to convert a finished manuscript into a hardcover. Yet less than eight months into the administration, Rushdie has produced a novel that, if not explicitly about the president, is tinged a toxic shade of orange.
I found the sculptures of Arthur Kern, now at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, startling not because I had never seen anything like them before—but the opposite. The sense of recognition was immediate and visceral. I was certain I had seen these images before, in some other time, somewhere very far away from here.
It’s a story as old as Alexander von Humboldt: white explorer treks into the Amazon, becomes lost and disoriented, paints face with mud, eats beetles, and has visions of galaxies and exotic reptiles, before finally achieving enlightenment—or total madness. But Ciro Guerra’s Embrace of the Serpent is strange enough to resist the worst of the old clichés, which is to say it resists moral certainty.
“While it actually resembles no other city upon the face of the earth,” wrote Lafcadio Hearn of New Orleans, “it owns suggestions of towns in Italy, and in Spain, of cities in England and in Germany, of seaports in the Mediterranean, and of seaports in the tropics.” There’s no better illustration of this than the photographs of Richard Sexton.
This annual cook-off is an excellent opportunity to visit Bogalusa, “The Magic City,” a town founded in 1906 by the Goodyears of Buffalo, New York, in a pine forest on the Mississippi border eighty minutes north of New Orleans.
For four decades Richard Sexton has been playing a transcontinental game of Concentration, pinballing between New Orleans and the cities of the Creole diaspora—Havana, Quito, Cartagena, Cap-Haïtien—documenting resonances in architecture and style.