“Amends”: A Novel Hilarious, True, and Masterful

“Amends”: A Novel Hilarious, True, and Masterful August 25, 2015

amendsIt’s a rare thing for me to begin reading a novel and, only paragraphs into it, wish I’d written it.

J. Malachi MacCool was born in Berkeley, California, in the last decade of the Cold War, to parents who deserved better. He had a dilapidated body and a face like the last days of the Raj: jowly, discredited, eager for the final defeat. He was thirty-two, he lived in a cockroach-infested studio apartment in Washington, DC, and fans of his writing — for magazines like Intimations, Hound and Gentry, the Anglican Militant and Tempus — considered him one of the great unwanted geniuses of a degenerate age. His favorite term of praise was “civilizational,” and he lived by the creed, “Alcoholism is what raises man above the utilitarians.” The J stood for Jaymi.

At the time he received the email from the reality show “Amends,” J. Malachi was on his seventh Stalin of the night (port and vodka, the drink that won the Great Patriotic War), and he had reached the point of drunkenness where he watched Thatcher-era Conservative Party political broadcasts on YouTube and ranted to his pet shrimps about the defense of the realm.

He refreshed his drink and his inbox. They were equally lurid and depressing. He had several right-wing spam emails:

“Be Your Own Banker” Webinar

How Long Do You Have Before It All
Goes Dark?

Seven Things to Hoard Today.

You’re White, You’re Guilty, You’re Dead!

“Come on, I’m not dead,” he muttered.

He deleted that, but the next one was no better: Now Obama Wants Your Conscience, Too!

“He’ll have to find it first,” J. Malachi said, and defiantly gulped his Stalin.

There was one email which looked different…

It’s an even rarer thing for me to recommend a book to you before I’ve finished reading it, myself.

I’m just starting the fourth chapter of Eve Tushnet’s outrageous novel, Amends, and I am telling you to buy it. It is fecking brilliant. It’s hilarious; true; heartfelt and masterful. It’s full of horrible people you want to get to know better.

Imagine a new reality show wherein the subjects put themselves before the world as they attempt making fearless and comprehensive 12-Step inventories of themselves, and then try to make amends to those they have harmed. It’s okay for television to do this, by the way, because the show’s producer is herself an addict:

“You know that I don’t want to do a standard junkie exploitation show. The point is to show a new side of addiction to the viewing public. We’re looking for smart, articulate people who are fucked-up in stupid, articulate ways. We’re breaking stereotypes, here, okay? We’re not going for the bottom of the barrel — we want to show that the barrel is pretty much all bottom. These are people who think they’re high-functioning,” Bentley said with a rueful smile. “They are wrong.”

Bentley’s idea of interviewing a potential production assistant for Amends goes like this:

“Most of our talent is gonna have the mental age of negative six. They’re basically evil fetuses. Their hearts are mosquitoes, they only land on someone they want to bite.

“Addicts are…gooey. Our morals are very stretchy. We don’t have a clearly-defined self because we’ve crossed so many of the lines which used to define us. ‘I’ll never drink on the job,’ ‘I’ll never have sex with a guy just because he has drugs,’ those are the things you use to draw a line between you and the world, that’s your skin. And when you cross those lines it’s like you don’t have skin anymore and you’re just oozing all over the place…you do whatever you can get away with.”

Ana suddenly remembered high school physics. Addicts are gassy, she thought and suppressed a giggle. Expanding to fill the space they’re given. But then, she wondered, who doesn’t?

Modern fiction tends to bore me; more often than not I feel like I can’t see the story because the author’s own conceits and self-conscious craftings get in the way, like window blinds that keep falling over my view. There is none of that in Tushnet’s writing, which flows so smoothly, and with such immediacy, that one is drawn in from the first page, and is quickly immersed within the lives of these satirical, all-too-real and knowable characters. In that sense of immediacy, Tushnet reminds me of Vonnegut, another author whose work has the ability to hypnotize me, and make me feel utterly at home, from page one.

Get this book. This is a wicked and wise novel, written by a woman who knows whereof she writes, and is sharing what she knows with stark lines and nimble prose.

That’s all I know about this book, so far. I can’t wait to finish it, but I had to tell you this, even before I did. Because I’m enjoying Amends just that much!

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