Mors Vincit Omnia: Martin Amis

I’m saddened by the news of Martin Amis’s death. Like many around my age, I discovered Amis through Time’s Arrow, a book I still maintain is remarkable in ways far beyond the “gimmick” of its reversed narrative. From there I read just about everything as it came out, occasionally with—from a creative point of view—near agonistic intensity. How did he do that, I kept asking myself, both amazed at his style and angry that I hadn’t been blessed with anything like it.

There are valid criticisms of Amis’s work, particularly some of his early novels’ depictions of differences between the way the men and women think and communicate (easy to forgive), and Islamophobia (a problematic term, as fellow traveler Christopher Hitchens observed, but nonetheless a real strain in some of Amis’s later writing). But one knock I will not countenance is that Amis was all style and no substance. Nothing could be further from the truth for Amis, as with Nabokov, who was equally—and equally wrongly—accused of the same thing by readers who can do better. Amis’s fictional worlds—and to some degree, as evidenced by his memoirs and reviews, his real world—were often characterized by recognizing the dark heart permanently twinned with the light one. His sometimes caustic, satiric style was, despite its consistent erudition and humor, too easy a target for some readers’ fixations.

At any rate, Amis was a bona fide literary rock star (which he apparently mostly hated) with an inimitable, unmistakable style and a scathing, fascinating, intellect. There’s no good way to capture this in a short space, but I am nonetheless dropping here a few bits of Amis culled from my commonplace books, in rough order of my affection for the titles they come from.

RIP, Little Sister

I’ll post other pictures later, but this is how I most—and in many ways most want to—remember my little sister Beki: happy, good-natured, and a little mischievous, the way she was for all the years she was given.

Being five years younger than me, Beki was always a little girl in my mind. I tried to protect her until I moved out of the house and our lives took separate paths for too many years. I will never forgive myself for not protecting her more, for not knowing more about the protection she needed then.

I tried, in the last 10 years, to make up for effectively abandoning her while I figured out a life for myself separate from the influences of her father’s (my adopted dad’s) side of the family. I couldn’t think of any way other than cutting them all off completely…and that ended up including her too.

She never blamed me. That wasn’t Beki’s way. She fought and found her path. She was a mom three-times over, biologically, and “mom” to the many more she took care of at different times. She was an artist. She could fix anything (she had all of the mechanical gifts I did not). She was fierce and stubborn. She was generous even when she had not. She lived in the present. She had a real chuckle and a half-fake laugh that- sounded just like our mom’s, our grandma’s, and our great grandma’s. No one else has that laugh I miss so much.

Most of all, though, Beki was my little sister, with all the simplicity and complexity that implies, and she is gone far too soon.

RIP, little sister. I love you, no matter how far.

RIP Grandpa Lott

[ca. 2009]

Grandpa Lott was my dad’s dad. Except that my “dad” was really my adopted.

After he quit smoking he always smelled of Wrigley Sugar Free gum, bubble-gum flavor, in the pink pack.

He was always ready with “Grandpa Lott” food: sun tea, kiwi fruit, cookies and biscuits made from tubes, pot roast cooked in a pressure cooker. Every time I visited he’d send me home with zip-loc bags full of each.

Setting aside those confused final days 15 years ago, he never hurt me, unintentionally or otherwise.

Scroll to Top