Amis – Dead Babies

24 Aug

Dead Babies by Martin Amis (1975)

Those books.

Martin Amis is a master of debauchery, depravity and douchebaggery.  Amis’ second novel, Dead Babies, is well-written, dark and hysterical at times.  That being said, his novels often contain characters that though wildly entertaining, elicit little or no sympathy from the reader.  Dead Babies is no exception.

Perhaps Lucy Littlejohn, the “golden-hearted whore” as we are told even before the novel starts, is deserving of sympathy.  She at least has a heart as evidenced by her staying with Keith at the novel’s end.  One could also make the argument that Keith is a sympathetic character because of how hideous and pathetic he is, but then he treats the Tuckles terribly (albeit not as bad as awful Andy and Quentin).  The Tuckles, who happen to be the most incidental characters in the story, may be the only characters to really sympathize with—what with their being subjected to frequent death threats, sprays of bullets on the front door, point blank fire-hose showers and drugged-up jailers.

Amis’ treatment of relative youth (i.e. 20 somethings) is both hilarious and terrifying.  Dead Babies follows a non-stop, almost apocalyptic party weekend in a house full of jerks.  The novel is chockfull of drugs, sex and violence.  The drug use far surpasses severe; these characters are drinking by the liter, smoking nine-paper joints, gobbling heroic amounts of pills, shooting in two arms.  The sex, though omnipresent, is tragic.  Outside of Quentin and Celia, nobody enjoys the act.  Nearly all of the men are literally and/or emotionally flaccid.  The girls are oversexed and detached.  The violence between characters, often with Keith on the receiving end (or those poor Tuckels), is astounding.  These characters are dangerous, antisocial and morally AWOL.  Amis shows that this kind of “living” ultimately leads to street sadness, false memories and suicide.

As much as the novel is very funny and sometimes poignant in its vivid descriptions, the fact that these characters are such assholes is ultimately a turn off.  Whereas Amis’ London Fields was able to find a bit of balance in its 3:1 asshole to sympathetic character ratio (thanks, Guy Clinch!).  Four main characters in London Fields was also a lot more palatable than the over-ambitious ten Appleseeders presented in Dead Babies.

I would recommend this book, but only for those who have read at least a handful of Amis’ other works and enjoyed them.  It certainly has its merits, but it is not his best work.

Rating: ***

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