The audience brims with British gents young and old. Geezers with smoke-crinkled sinews mix with Hugh Jackman lookalikes in Tom Ford specs, chrome neckties, and the pale blues of Futures traders. In front of all of them sit mostly women aged fifty and over, hedged with me in the front rows. “I’ve been coming to readings for years,” says one. “I used to have the biggest crush on George Plimpton.” Her friend pipes up. “Mine was on Tyrone Power, but he’s been dead forever,” she says. “It’s safer that way, to love them when they’re dead.” A young couple who haven’t gotten that memo canoodle at stage left, sharing the Times crossword puzzle and a golf pencil.
Just as the crowd nears capacity, squawking over the cool jazz salve meant to soothe them: enter Amis. He hits his mark around 7:20 with the swagger of a retired footballer, or an O’Toole / Harris acolyte not yet put out to pasture. It is a brisk Monday night in September, and he warms the room on arrival. He begins with a tart shanking of Tampa, where he’s just come from having either covering the RNC or flying laps around it in search of the right carcass. Like many others I am Laughing Out Loud not merely because his jabs are witty, but because it is so fun to hear his voice so quickly ether any pomp or formality still lingering around the room. Amis’ voice stews, like a corrosive agent broiling a hole through your kitchen table. He reads far less from the book he’s here to promote – Lionel Asbo: State of England (Knopf) – than most authors in this same spot. It’s a drag only because he’s better at orating his own work than most writers: taking dramatic pauses, sizing up his language, and inflecting his characters with unique intonations.
He saves most of his time for questions and is in so many words asked by the crowd to lambast or laud certain targets – Rupert Murdoch, Reagan and those who bastardize him today, Princess Diana, and Gore Vidal chief among them. When asked what boundaries exist if any in what places and people can occupy a novel, Amis plucks his favored idiom of recent years, “fiction is freedom”. Each turn he is gracefully cutting, and your mileage would vary on these statements depending on where your loyalties lie. I myself don’t even get particularly ruffled when hearing his take on the state of the Occupy movement (saddened to report that “hot leftist gusto has been bred out of the young”), or that he finds his Cobble Hill neighborhood “embarrassingly mild”. For this, he is welcome here in scenic Bushwick any old time.