Gary Fry: The Book I Would Like To Be Buried With…

Bury Me‘s eighteenth instalment focuses upon the UK’s Gary Fry, whose short stories have graced my shelves since I encountered Both And way back in 2003’s seminal Gathering The Bones anthology…

money“…E Mortius Revoco, a Guide to DIY Practical Resurrections.

Only kidding.

In fact, that’s a hard question, but put a gun to my head (and let’s face it, such an act would bring the grave a tad closer) and I’d have to say Money by Martin Amis. I love it. One of those books you can read from start to end with undiminished pleasure, or simply dip into and revisit certain seminal passages. The prose is wonderful, the jokes as dark and funny as they come, and the whole thing is frequently profound, provocative and stimulating. Amis is my generation’s big UK voice. Nuff said, sir.

Here’s a short extract to illustrate only some of the foregoing eulogising:

In LA, you can’t do anything unless you drive. Now I can’t do anything unless I drink. And the drink-drive combination, it really isn’t possible out there. If you so much as loosen your seatbelt or drop you ashes or pick your nose, then it’s an Alcatraz autopsy with the questions asked later. Any indiscipline, you feel, any variation, and there’s a bullhorn, a set of scope sights, and a coptered pig drawing a bead on your rug.

So what can a poor boy do? You come out of the hotel, the Vraimont. Over boiling Watts the downtown sky line carries a smear of God’s green snot. You walk left, you walk right, you are a bank rat on a busy river. This restaurant serves no drink, this one serves no meat, this one serves no heterosexuals. You can get your chimp shampooed, you can get your dick tattooed, twenty-four hours, but can you get lunch? And should you see a sign on the far side of the street flashing BEEF–BOOZE–NO STRINGS, then you can forget it. The only way to get across the road is to be born there. All the ped-xing signs say DON’T WALK, all of them, all the time. That is the message, the content of Los Angeles: don’t walk. Stay inside. Don’t walk. Drive. Don’t walk. Run! I tried the cabs. No use. The cabbies are all Saturnians who aren’t even sure whether this is a right planet or a left planet. The first thing you have to do, every trip, is teach them how to drive.

What I love here, as in the great majority of Amis’s work, is the brilliance of the ideas, their phrasing, the way he alludes to great literature by way of tawdry modern life (“God’s green snot”). He has made the hideous beautiful – quite an achievement. If great writers hold up a mirror to their times, what is Amis giving us? In Money, it’s the way that the whole of social life has been commodified and subjugated to the rigors of capitalism. John Self is a void, a man who moves from one effortless addiction to the next. When he goes to watch an opera, he interprets the story according to a soap opera or a tabloid headline story. He’s drunk most of the time, but those blank-outs serve another purpose. Amis also offers us a meta-reflective rumination on the nature of novel writing. Characters disappear for great patches of all novels – Self simply blacks out: a nicely judged metaphor what happens when the reader ‘isn’t looking’. But Amis goes further, and later in the book we get a character called Martin Amis who’s deliberately manipulating his central character much in the way that ‘Godlike’ authors do: a smart touch. There are other things going on in this novel which beggar belief. The complexity masquerades as endless vitriolic and painful comedy. It’s probably the funniest thing I’ve ever read. And if Self achieves a little pathos and independence towards the end of the book, what are we to make of this? Is he redeemable? Are our times? Are we?

On the basis of this book in particular, Amis has been described as a misogynist, but nothing – in my view – could be further from the truth. Selina Street manipulates Self, for sure, though it’s he who holds all the money and that’s what she’s after. And of course it’s another female character, Martina Twain, who attempts to reform Self, even though, when left in her flat a while, he spends rather less time reading the copy of Animal Farm she’s lent him than he does seeking out choice bits of photography over which he can masturbate. But come on, that’s all true – it’s so true. And that’s the bottom line for me: Amis tells it the way it is for men in these not-so-long-departed modern times.

Maybe he’s therefore a geezers’ author. I’m not entirely sure. All I do know is that his fictional worlds resonate with me. The headiness of the language is intoxicating. He does what V S Pritchett insisted all writers should do: give voice to all the wonderful thoughts inside even the most base of people. And boy is Self base. But…maybe we all are. Maybe Amis is reminding us of that, and perhaps he uses his divine gift for prose as a way of smuggling these truths through the ever-so-refined filter of ‘good taste’. In short, he challenges what literature is supposed to deal with, the higher aspirations and concerns of humanity. Well, what can I say to support that? Something in the style of the superb Money, maybe: okay, here goes – Bach, Galileo, Shakespeare, Churchill, Keats, Constable, Brunel, to name but a few – they all surely enjoyed a handjob now and again.


Gary FryAbout Gary Fry:

Gary Fry lives in Dracula’s Whitby, literally around the corner from where Bram Stoker was staying when he was thinking about that character. Gary has a PhD in psychology, though his first love is literature. To date he’s had four short story collections and over 60 tales published. His first novel – a frightening haunted house piece called The House of Canted Steps – will be published in 2010 by PS Publishing. He also has a disturbing novella – the colourfully entitled ‘The Invisible Architect of Psychopathy – out from Pendragon Press in 2010: this accompanies a fine piece by Simon Maginn in a book called Feral Companions.