I not only had to read ‘em, and weep, I reviewed ‘em as I reviled ‘em. With a paycheck, a deadline, and a commitment to a major metropolitan newspaper at stake, I had to, at times, summon some seemingly superhuman strength to simply turn a page. All that unshirkable responsibility pretty much eliminates the option of tossing the book mid-tome across the room, telling all who would inquire that my dog ate my book — and he quite enjoyed it. Stupid mutt.
Though most books were rewarding, or at least had some redeeming qualities, a few books in particular — ones I would’ve gladly pummeled into puppy-chow pulp — never made it to Fido the Philistine’s dish while I unwillingly attempted to fulfill my contractual obligations. I don't want to point a finger, but… oh why not, I will name names: Among those books bound for inglorious reception was perhaps – no, absolutely the worst of the lot — Martin Amis’ Yellow Dog.
Maybe my expectations were too high. With such previous novels as London Fields, The Information, and The Night Train, Amis' wit-whittled woe of bons mots over bonhomie marked his sardonic and misanthropic tales of misery and imagination, smacking of a postmodern Algonquin and malice in a wonderland of cranky perversity and stinging, nihilistic cynicism. Get warm and fuzzy somewhere else; down these novelistic rabbit holes lies a rabidly unwholesome world where a Nabokovian love of language reigns supreme over sometimes sketchy stories and even sketchier characters, often by design.
But 2003’s Yellow Dog is bursting with failed, scattershot send-ups and wide-ranging ruminations on marriage, violence, airline terror, Hollywood, pornography, incest, tabloid journalism, and a bizarro-world royal family. The rudderless arbitrariness and the sound and fury and all that that signifies is encapsulated early on in one character's plaint: "He sniffed the essential wrongness of the air, with its fucked-up undertaste, as if all the sequiturs had been vacuumed out of it. A yellow-world of faith and fear, and paltry ingenuity. And all of us just flying blind."
The kaleidoscopic consequences are more trouble than it’s worth to untangle, however. Worse yet, the expected redeeming wit and patented flashes of stylistic flourishes are few and far between. Amis seems to be groping for commentary on such concerns as male violence, the tenuousness of relationships and family bonds, and changing morality in a new millennium, but the reach exceeds such grasping at straws. While some of the loose ends are tied and disparate subplots sloppily reconciled, it's too little, too late for a work too ludicrous for words.