Book Beat 

Satanic Verses author Salman Rushdie is no longer marked for death and has been taking advantage of his relaxed condition through such actions as moving to Manhattan, hanging with U2 and popping up in the film Bridget Jones's Diary. But his latest novel, Fury, suggests that the singular circumstances of his past 12 years, combining world-wide fame and enforced seclusion, may have skewed some of his literary instincts.

Fury's main character, the intemperate professor Malik Solanka, has fled his wife and son in London to lose himself in New York. Through Solanka's eyes, Rushdie gives us New York in the summer of 2000, paying undue attention to every pop cultural blip, from Gladiator to Elian Gonzales to Gush-and-Bore election jokes. Rushdie seems to want to nail America's pet fascinations -- wealth, technology, celebrity -- but in Fury the name-dropping author himself only seems fascinated with such things.

In trying to write a novel that's of the moment, Fury instead seems instantly out of date. Rushdie remains a limber and imaginative prose stylist, but when he goes on tangents about topics like digital culture, the Internet and American religion, he doesn't observe anything that hasn't already been thoroughly remarked on already. Fury frequently feels like a "midlife crisis" novel, especially in its sketchily drawn women characters. Ex-wives are treated with contempt for being victims, while beautiful young women are resented for their confidence and power over men.

As a maker of dolls who develops popular multi-media franchises around them, Solanka seems a contrived surrogate for his own author. But Rushdie is onto something when Solanka's make-believe universe inspires a rebellion in the small South Pacific nation of "Lilliput-Blefescu," providing intriguing insights into the relationship between the Third World and the First, between fiction and reality. He pursues this thread so ardently that in the book's latter portion he abandons New York with scarcely a second thought, but at this point he hasn't developed "Lilliput-Blefescu" as much as it deserves.

As rapidly-expiring as an Op-Ed column, Fury disappoints, but it still hints at Rushdie's continent-encompassing creativity. You can understand his itch to set off in new directions, even if this one turns out to be a blind alley.



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