Sunday, January 21, 2007

Richard Tull does America?

One of the most interesting parts about my experience teaching English in Korea had nothing really to do with Korea; it had to do with the expat scene, which consisted largely of Canadians, and had also quite a few English and Irish, a fair amount of Australian, and even some New Zealanders and the occasional South African. In other words, the English-speaking world converged, and it wasn't all Americans. I found this refreshing (except for that brief moment Thanksgiving week, 40 days in) and I also got used to it, so I forget that it's still a new and interesting concept to a lot of my acquaintances here in the United States when it comes up in conversation.

Besides the general goodness of getting a different perspective on one's country and my fun new friends from around the world, it was also fun that some of my friends jokingly made me an "honorary Canadian" at the end of my sojourn. In fact, the first thing one of my Korean co-workers said to me when I got to the school that first day was, "You don't look like an American." I was never entirely sure what that meant.

In The Information, Richard Tull is trying without success to burst the bubble of his friend Gwyn's success. Richard is insanely jealous of Gwyn, because Richard's writing career is beyond lackluster at this point. He decides to anonymously send Gwyn the Sunday New York Times with a note: "Something in here that might interest you." This, he thinks, will send Gwyn into paroxysms of desperate seraching for the thing that will stroke his ego and/or confirm his place as a bright start in the literary firmament. After having some trouble getting his hands on The New York Times in a timely fashion in London, he is in a shop with The Los Angeles Times and he's like Ah!! Even better! It's even bigger and fatter and more full of crap. So he wraps it and even checks the Book Review, Arts, Calendar, News, etc. sections to make sure there ISN'T really something about Gwyn in it. He sends it anonymously.

The next week he is playing chess at his friend's house and sees the newspaper spread across the coffee table and innocently asks, "What, do you take the Los Angeles Times?" And his friend is like, no, some bloke who doesn't even identify himself as more than "John" sent it... but get this. Of course. Gwyn has found the item; luckily, he says, his glance just fell upon it. He could have been looking all week.

And so of course, Richard has to then do exactly what he'd wished upon Gwyn, poring over the pages until he finds a listing in the classifieds: wanted, a first edition of Gwyn's first book.

It's all rather amusing, as is the way in which Martin Amis subtly comments on these two particular U.S. newspapers. He also comments not quite as subtly about the U.S. :

"Richard was struck by an unpleasant thought: what if there was something to interest Gwyn Barry in this particular issue of the Sunday Los Angeles Times? An eight-page symposium on his work, for example. Or a whole Gwyn Barry Section. As in the UK, Amelior had first been a flop, then a sleeper, and finally a smash in the United States...this fact inflicted a wound that still out-throbbed all the others: out-throbbed the gouges and gashes visited on him by the book's apparent popularity everywhere else on earth, which he got to hear about piecemeal, from Gwyn's offhand grumbles: this importunate Argentinian journalist, or camera crew, that interminable questionnaire from Taiwan. But America. Come on..." -- pp. 85-86

And, see, that in itself is hilarious and telling, but read further and in a mere two sentences you get this:

"Could it be that Gwyn had stumbled on the universal, that voice which speaks to and for the human soul? No. Gwyn had stumbled on the LCD." -- p. 86

I love this book. I love reading it. Now Richard is in talks with Gwyn's agent, who mostly represents people who are already famous for something else before they write their books, something such as cooking or being an athlete or politician. I love that comment on the so-called literary scene as well.

For various reasons, Richard is slated to go with Gwyn on his eight-city U.S. book tour for the new novel. I hope this happens. I read on, eager to find out.

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