"MA's" life might not be a Horatio Alger tale, but he's seen and felt some unique and interesting things in his 50 years, which might explain why his new memoir has the title Experience. In part, the volume represents some score settling. The mid-1990s saw Amis divorce his English wife, marry an American woman and trade his English agent -- as well as his dentist -- for American ones. His dental surgery and demands for higher advances made him a whipping boy for the British press in a tabloid fashion American "highbrow" artists almost never see, except for maybe Woody Allen during the Mia break-up.
Experience doesn't present the major episodes in Amis' life in a chronological order. Rather, he circles them in a way that evokes the act of remembering. The narrative most regularly orbits such events as MA's discovery of an unknown teenage daughter, Delilah; the revelation that Amis' cousin Lucy Partington, missing for years, was murdered by British serial killer Frederick West; the strains on the different marriages of MA's parents; and the decline and recent death of Kingsley.
The book is most effective as a tribute to Amis Senior, a writer and father rife with contradictions: a committed drinker terrified of being left alone and a hard-liner for English elocution who adored the Terminator movies. Kingsley emerges as a more vivid and colorful character than any of Martin's fictional creations: "When he made you laugh he sometimes made you laugh -- not continuously, but punctually -- for the rest of your life."
But the flashbacks-within-flashbacks structure of the book becomes confusing after a while, and you lose track of the sequence of the major events and the identity of the friends and relatives on the margins. Amis offers many thoughtful and even touching insights, especially on the dynamic of "experience" and "innocence," but the length of the book makes them sound increasingly repetitious.
And Experience has, well, cavities. Amis scarcely describes the end of his own marriage but recounts his oral surgery in epic, excruciating detail. Amis remains a wickedly clever phrase-maker, but ultimately his memoir suggests, rather too aptly, a line of Kingsley's: "Well, it's all experience, though it's a pity there had to be so much of it."
-- Curt Holman
I Rant Therefore I Am
By Dennis Miller
$21.95, 208 pages
Comedy and sports fans alike are curious to see how Dennis Miller, the H.L. Mencken of late-night talk shows, will fit in as a commentator on "Monday Night Football's" upcoming season. True, Miller's trademark brand of hipper-than-thou smugness and obscure pop references has been successfully co-opted by the announcers of "SportsCenter." But in "Monday Night Football's" regular-guy atmosphere, Miller's arcane quips might leave him standing out like Marty Feldman in a Beijing police line-up, to borrow one of his own similes.
You'll find a good representation of Miller's distinctive style in I Rant Therefore I Am, the third collection of his show-opening "rants" from his HBO series "Dennis Miller Live." Many comedians write books by simply transcribing their stand-up routines, which fall flat without the inflections of their delivery. But Miller's wry screeds lend themselves to the printed page, allowing readers to take their time with his recondite references and often clever wordplay.
Drawn from the last couple of years of his weekly series, Miller's 52 monologues offer wicked takes on persistent themes in the media, from wrestling to affirmative action to "The End of Accountability." Miller can reveal a conservative streak, as in his unapologetically vengeful rant in favor of the death penalty, but like most comics, he shows more loyalty to the laugh than any ideology. Rabid Republicans and Clintonian morals provide grist for the Mill, but he even more eagerly returns to pet targets like Star Trek conventions and Joan and Melissa Rivers. Some of the jokes about Viagra or Monica Lewinsky have gotten dusty, but every few pages you'll find something to guffaw over.
How many other modern monologists take care with the craft of the epigram? A piece on "Style vs. Substance" offers such quotable lines as, "Style can probably best be described as substance abuse ... Substance is a support beam, and style is the mirror ball hanging from it." And no cultural footnote is too obscure for him. In an older bit about daytime talk shows, he declares, "Some of these shows have been on for years, but they still manage to find this Fantasia broom army of social misfits to appear on them. They all look like they've just stepped out of a William Faulkner rough draft, mouth-breathing freaks who make Jethro Bodine look like David Niven."
Of course, on "Monday Night Foot-ball," Miller had best keep such remarks to a minimum, unless he wants to sound like the kind of elitist egghead who makes William F. Buckley look like John Madden.
-- Curt Holman
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