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MORIARTY's Bookshelf: Rushdie's FURY!!

Hey, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab.

I love the way this works. Ever since I started writing about books for this site and publishing Frank Bascombe’s column, I’ve been getting review copies of upcoming books, and I’ve been talking with more people in the publishing field. That’s how it always is... we start writing about something, and then interesting people just come out of the woodwork.

I’m especially grateful when it means I get to bring you advance word on something special, and this week, I’ve got a number of books to share with you that fit that definition. First up is one of the highest-profile novels of the fall season. Later in the week, I’ll be taking a look at two excellent debut novels, both of which introduce strong, crisp voices that should be worth paying attention to in the years ahead.

FURY by Salman Rushdie

Divided into three parts, FURY is a brilliant meditation on the details of the life of one man whose entire existence is choked to a stop by his nearly boundless rage and his inability to figure out the source of it. I’d like to warn you... Rushdie’s written a tough, adult novel, and some of the language and ideas discussed here aren’t for our younger readers.

Professor Malik Solanka, retired historian of ideas, irascible dollmaker, and since his recent fifty-fifth birthday celibate and solitary by his own (much criticized) choice, in his silvered years found himself living in a golden age.

That golden age is the summer of the year 2000 in New York City, and Malik Solanka is a fascinating lead character, and Rushdie paints a precise portrait of a time and a place, grounding us in an identifiable world, something we recognize.

Solanka has left his wife and son in London and fled to New York for reasons he can’t explain to anyone. Just walking down the street, when someone asks him a question, he feels sudden, overwhelming rage and practically barks at them. He feels that life is a farce, that we are puppets, and he can’t find his voice to express this to anyone. When he talks to his wife on the phone, all he can do is listen to his wife cry. When she tries to tell him about his son, he won’t listen. He can’t tell her why, and no matter how much he tries to convince her that it’s not her fault or her responsibility, it doesn’t help. There’s still no husband at home, no father. Solly, as she calls him, is eccentric, to say the least. He was a tenured don at King’s, Cambridge, but walked away when a creation of his became a pop sensation. It started in the mid-‘80’s, when he visited Amsterdam and spent a day at the Rijksmuseum, where he was entranced by the dollhouses on display there. He went back to the museum day after day, an idea nagging him at the edge of awareness, finally taking shape. He left Amsterdam to return to Cambridge, and he began working on miniature scenes of his own, going further and actually creating tiny characters to live in the houses. He created a series of great philosophers, the "Great Brain" series. Kierkegaard, Machiavelli, Socrates, Galileo. He also created a character to interact with these Great Brains, to stimulate them through conversation. His creation, Little Brain, led to a TV deal for Solly, a successful series, and then a second series that became even more successful, even iconic. Little Brain takes on a life of her own, and eventually her celebrity becomes unmanageable for Solly. He sells off his rights to her, bit by bit, becoming fabulously rich in the process.

Then something happens, and Solly flees. He crosses an ocean to get away from whatever’s changed, only to have it follow him. He is enveloped in his newly uncontained anger, and he can’t help but think about his whole life. There is a breathtaking impact in the way Rushdie piles his words on. He’s a poet, even if he works in prose. He pulls you deep into Solly’s troubled soul with this tumbling cacophony of words:

[H]e believed himself to be a good person. Women believed it too. Sensing in him a ferocity of commitment that was rarefly found in modern men, women had often allowed themselves to fall in love with him, surprising themselves – these wised-up, cautious women! – by the speed with which they charged outward into the really deep emotional water. And he didn’t let them down. He was kind, understanding, generous, clever, funny, grown-up, and the sex was good, it was always good. This is forever, they thought, because they could see him thinking it too; they felt loved, treasured, safe. He told them – each of his women in turn – that friendship was what he had instead of family ties, and, more than friendship, love. That sounded right. So they dropped their defenses and relaxed into all the good stuff and never saw the hidden twisting in him, the dreadful torque of his doubt, until the day he snapped and the alien burst out of his stomach, baring multiple rows of teeth. They never saw the end coming until it hit them. His first wife, Sara, the one with the graphic verbal gift, put it thus: "It felt like an ax-murder."

"Your trouble is," Sara incandescently said near the end of their last quarrel, "that you’re really on in love with those fucking dolls. The world in inanimate miniature is just about all you can handle. The world you can make, unmake, and manipulate, filled with women who don’t answer back, women you don’t have to fuck. Or are you making them with cunts now, wooden cunts, rubber cunts, fucking inflatable cunts that squeak like balloons as you slide in and out; do you have a life-size fuck-dolly harem hidden in a shed somewhere, is that what they’ll find when one day you’re arrested for raping and chopping up some golden-haired eight year old, some poor fucking living doll you played with and then threw away. They’ll find her shoe in a hedge and there’ll be descriptions of a minivan on TV and I’ll be watching and you won’t be home and I’ll think, Jesus, I know that van, it’s the one he carries his fucking toys around in when he goes to his perverts’ I’ll-show-you-my-dolly-if-you’ll-show-me-yours reunions. I’ll be the wife who never knew a thing. I’ll be the fucking cow-faced wife on TV forced to defend you just to defend myself, my own unimaginable stupidity, because after all, I chose you."

Life is fury, he’d thought. Fury – sexual, Oedipal, political, magical, brutal – drives us to our finest heights and coarsest depths. Out of furia comes creation, inspiration, originality, passion, but also violence, pain, pure unafraid destruction, the giving and reveiving of blows from which we never recover. The Furies pursue us; Shiva dances his furious dance to create and also to destroy. But never mind about gods! Sara ranting at him represented the human spirit in its purest, least socialized form. This is what we are, what we civilize ourselves to disguise – the terrifying human animal in us, the exalted, transcendent, self-destructive, untrameled lord of creation. We raise each other to the heights of joy. We tear each other limb from fucking limb.

Everything makes Solly crazy with rage. He can’t go to the movies without some encounter that leaves his entire being clenched. He keeps running into a neighbor from his street, a girl in her early 20s named Mila, and finds himself frustrated by her, tormented by something in her nature. The news is nothing but Elian all the time, and every angle of the story makes Solly sick. His rented house comes with a maid who does no good, and when he has problems with his plumbing, he has to use the plumber his landlord sends despite the fact that he can’t stand the man. And through it all, he refuses to face what it was that sent him running from his house, that sent him away from the safety and solace of family to a city that is like a million voices screaming in his ear.

Even worse, Solly is beginning to believe that he might be responsible for something worse that just a dereliction of his duties as a husband and father. A series of violent crimes in the city corresponds with a series of blackouts, and he feels that the capacity for that sort of dark wrath is within him. He tries to reach out to a friend of sorts, an equally lost and broken soul named Jack Reinhart, and is actually watching soccer with him one afternoon when something happens that profoundly impacts Solly:

On the television the Dutch were playing sublime football, but the match had suddenly become an irrelevance. Malik Solanka was thinking that the woman who had just enetered Rhinehart’s living room was by some distance the most beautiful Indian woman – the most beautiful woman - he had ever seen. Compared to the intoxicating effect of her presence, the bottle of Dos Equis in his left hand was wholly alcohol free. Other women in the world were just under six feet tall, with waist-length black hair, he supposed; and no doubt such smoky eyes were also to be found elsewhere, as also other lips as richly cushioned, other necks as slender, other legs as interminably long. On other women, too, there might be breasts like these. So what? In the words of an idiotic song from the fifties, "Bernardine," sung in one of his raunchier moments by his mother’s favorite recording artists, the Christian conservative Pat Boone: "Your separate parts are not unknown/but the way you assemble ‘em’s all your own." Exactly, thought Professor Solanka, drowning. Just exactly so.

This meeting is the final thread to be laid in this complicated tapestry, and once he’s introduced the girl, Rushdie gets down to seriously weaving this tale of his. A major incident in Solly’s youth has left its mark on him. A neighbor, Mr. Venkat, became a sanyasi, giving up all his possessions and worldly connections, severing himself from life in order to get closer to God before dying. By fleeing, Solly believes that he has begun the process of his own death. He’s doing it in luxury, though, and instead of simplifying his life, he’s complicating it. Solly finds himself involved in increasingly complicated sexual relationships with both Mila, his neighbor, and Neela Mahendra, the woman from Reinhart’s apartment. And instead of dying, Solly seems to be reinventing his life, blooming into yet another version of himself. He ruins other lives even as he fixes his own. He creates another multimedia experience, a dense science-fiction universe that is the centerpiece of a major website launch, and in doing so, he begins to discover the truth about himself and the source of his anger.

Late in the book, Mila’s boyfriend breaks into a bedroom where Solly and Neela are in bed together, and the scene that ensues gives Rushdie a chance to work in another of his devastating looks at our relationship with our own pop culture, one of the major themes of this Vonnegut-like contemporary fable:

Neela was stirring, crying softly in his sleep, as she so often did. "Shh," Solanka caressed her back. "It’s okay. Shh." Eddie nodded sagely. "I expect she’ll be joinin’ us soon, man. I fuckin’ eagerly anticipate it." Then he resumed his ruminations. "We often rank movies, Mila an’ me. Scary, scarier, scariest, like that. For her, it’s THE EXORCIST, man, soon to be re-released with previously unseen material, uh-huh, but I retort, no. You have to go all the way back to the classical period to my man Roman Polanski. ROSEMARY’S BABY, man. That’s the fuckin’ baby for me. Now, babies are somethin’ you’d know about, am I right, Professor? Babies sittin’ for instance on your fuckin’ lap day after fuckin’ day. You didn’t answer me, Professor. Allow me to rephrase. You’ve been foolin’ with what wasn’t yours to touch, and the way I see it, the fuckin’ wrongdoer shall be punished. Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord. Vengeance is Eddie’s, ain’t that so, Professor, wouldn’t you concede that as we face each other here, that is totally the fuckin’ reality of the case? As we face each other here, you defenseless with your lady there and me with this enormous murderin’ motherfucker of a blade in my hand waiting to cut off your balls, wouldn’t you fuckin’ accept that the Day of Judgment is fuckin’ nigh?"

The movies were infantilizing their audience, Solanka thought, or perhaps the easily infantilizable were drawn to movies of a certain simplified kind. Perhaps daily life, its rush, its overloadedness, just numbed and anesthetized people and they went into the movies’ simpler worlds to remember how to feel. As a result, in the minds of many adults, the experience on offer in the movie theaters now felt more real than what was available in the world outside. For Eddie, his movie-hoodlum riffs possessed more authenticity than any more "natural" pattern of speech, even of threatening speech, at his disposal. In his mind’s eye, he was Samuel L. Jackson, about to waste some punk. He was a man in a black suit, a man named after a color, slicing up a trussed-up victim to the tune of "Stuck In The Middle With You." None of which meant that a knife was not a knife. Pain was still pain, death still came as the end, and there was unquestionably a crazy young man waving a knife at them in the dark. Neela was awake now, sitting up beside Solanka, pulling the sheet around her nakedness, just the way people did in the movies. "You know him?" she whispered. Eddie laughed. "Oh, sure, pretty lady," he cried. "We have time for a little Q-and-A. The professor and me, we’re colleagues."

Rushdie keeps this one surprising and engaging to the very last page, and I was brought to tears by the last four pages, as sad and beautiful an ending as even my literary hero John Irving has ever concocted. Solly is a difficult figure to like, and an even more difficult figure to empathize with, but somehow Rushdie makes him achingly human by the end. He opens this dark, broken heart wide enough that we have no choice but to understand it. We are given a catharsis here without being given a conventional happy ending. Rushdie isn’t looking to give us easy answers about how to navigate our way through this world that we’ve made for ourselves, more difficult and overwhelming with each passing year. Instead, he dares us to ask the questions of ourselves, to take the chance on peace that can only be attained by confronting our demons, our miseries, our pains.

On the new album VESPERTINE by Bjork, there’s a song that seems like the perfect lullaby for Solly and all those like him, a soothing prayer of a song that speaks directly to the troubled heart of modern life, and as I read back through this amazing novel, I can’t help but hear Bjork’s distinctive coo, "Undo," the antidote to Rushdie’s overheated FURY:

"It's not meant to be a strife/It's not meant to be a struggle uphill/You're trying too hard/Surrender/You're trying too hard/You're trying too hard..."

In the end, both Bjork and Rushdie hit the same note of grace attained, and I would recommend this transporting piece of fiction to anyone, no matter what you've thought of Rushdie's previous works. This may be a career best for one of our most remarkable thinkers and writers.

"Moriarty" out.

Readers Talkback
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  • Sept. 10, 2001, 6:01 a.m. CST

    Satanic Verses

    by Purple Toupee

    I consider myself literate. I was an English major, I enjoy reading everything from J.K. Rowling to William Faulker (BIG fan of Sound and the Fury). But I tried to read the Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie, and I couldn't get through it. Just thought y'all would like to know. Oh, and first. :P

  • Sept. 10, 2001, 6:20 a.m. CST

    Have you read MIDNIGHT'S CHILDREN?

    by La Dolce Vita

    Once you get through the first couple of hundred pages, it's fine. One of the top books of the 20th Century. I hear that it's much more accessible than THE SATANIC VERSES. Rushdie himself seems a little vain and egotistical, but then again, aren't most writers?

  • Sept. 10, 2001, 6:22 a.m. CST

    Verses vs Verses

    by ThunderPickle

    I can't wait to read FURY. Okay, I admit Satanic Verses was a difficult read... like Bester on acid or some shit. Rushdie inspires though and I wanna take a look at this. Thanks again Moriarty -you keep me up-to-date bro!

  • Sept. 10, 2001, 6:35 a.m. CST

    I thought I was the only one...

    by Huneybee

    who couldn't get through the Satanic Verses!____A Relieved Bee

  • Sept. 10, 2001, 7:18 a.m. CST

    The Ground Beneath Her Feet

    by The Grin

    ... a great novel, a hallucinogenic rollercoaster ride through pop culture and timeless themes...a tribute to the power of rock and roll. "The Ground Beneath Her Feet" made me weep, and I'm headed out to pick up "Fury" as soon as it arrives. I LOVE AICN BOOK REVIEWS! Who would have thought this site would ever start such an interesting new branch. Give us previews of more stuff, Moriarty! I can't wait to hear Joe Hallenbeck's preview rant about the next release by Richard Russo.... The Grin Jeffrey

  • Sept. 10, 2001, 7:21 a.m. CST

    Re: Honeybee

    by Purple Toupee

    I don't even remember how far I got--I think the bookmark is still there. So much for expanding my literary horizons. Anyway, I'll try Fury, at the recommendation of Mr. Moriarty.

  • Sept. 10, 2001, 10:06 a.m. CST

    Irving's your literary hero, Mori?

    by rabid_republican

    May God have mercy on your soul. I too, was an English major. Of course, I was also a lone dissenter, going against the trend, boycotting whomever it was the kiki shi shi hipster jetset was Lewinskying to show their own self-indulgent sophistication. Rushdie easily made this short list, again and again. For some reason however, I wouldn't mind having a look at "Fury", if only to confirm why I never read Rushdie in the first place. The literary critics will have a field day with this one no doubt, as the work will no doubt lend itself well to charges of misogyny and the like. Simple exerpts here tell me that much.

  • Sept. 10, 2001, 10:26 a.m. CST

    I know its fun to receive books for free from publishers, howeve

    by montaigne

    Moriarty: you often write with great spirit about those things you enjoy: Tomb Raider test reels, and soforth. But I might caution some of your readers, "younger" and otherwise, that your review contains strong language

  • Sept. 10, 2001, 10:38 a.m. CST

    I hope the Muslims catch up to Rushdie soon...

    by Samurai Jack

    ...because he writes horrible, horrible books. If there is a God, He will spare us any more of the man's drivel.

  • Sept. 10, 2001, 1:39 p.m. CST

    My husband wanted me to get rid of my copy of the Satanic Verses

    by Huneybee

    He thought it was a book about witchcraft. ;) Yeah, isn't the just what I instrutional manual on how to be a witch, eh?____A Witchy Bee

  • Sept. 10, 2001, 2:47 p.m. CST

    Please review the new Neal Stephenson Novel

    by TheMatarife

    Im sure its coming somewhere. Id love to see a review ahead of time.

  • Sept. 10, 2001, 7:56 p.m. CST

    Books and the Satanic Verses.

    by Electric_Monk

  • Sept. 10, 2001, 8:04 p.m. CST

    Rushdie and Advanced Readers Copies

    by Electric_Monk

    Sorry about that................. After spending 14 years in the book business, I've had my fair share of advanced copies of books. Most were first time authors, but I did get advances of the the last three King novels and his On Writing book. Recently read the Clive Barker novel Coldheart Canyon, which is due in October. However, I've TRIED to read Rushdie, and he is difficult. His style is different. I got about 125 pages into The Ground Beneath Her Feet, before I put it down. I still have a HC copy of Moor's Last Sigh, if only because I got it signed by him. I've never tried Satanic Verses. It seemed pointless. Now that I'm out of the book business, I'll mis those advanced copies. It was fun, though, while it lasted.

  • Sept. 11, 2001, 1:18 a.m. CST

    Based on a true story?

    by Glynyfaron

    Let's see, ageing but grotesquely self-obessessed academic dumps family for no apparent reason and goes off to fuck a beautiful Indian woman about half his age. Wonder where Rushdie got the idea from.