Analysis of Martin Amis’s Straight Fiction

“Straight Fiction” is not the first story in which Martin Amis depicts an upside-down world in a short story. In “The Time Disease,” published in Einstein’s Monsters (1987), Amis imagines a postnuclear society where to be ill is a sign of health, of being in tune with a sick world where those who suffer from “time” (rosy cheeks, appetite, fits of energy) are condemned to a certain death. In “Career Move” (1992) poets live in luxury, courted by multinational companies, whereas scriptwriters have to wait long years to see their material published in obscure magazines.

Martin Amis

Martin Amis / Elena Seibert

In “Straight Fiction,” first published in Esquire in 1995 and later included in Heavy Water and Other Stories (1998), most of the population is gay while heterosexuals are a beleaguered minority who begin to stand up for their rights. Cleve, the protagonist of the story, is scandalized when a famous actor comes out in a magazine as being “totally het” (195). Although the main character prides himself as being a liberal homosexual, he observes with dismay that straight people increasingly show affection in public places; bookshops display sections on straight studies, and on television heterosexual demonstrations are receiving important news coverage: “Here was a big item about Straight Freedom Day, as celebrated in San Francisco, ‘the straight capital of the world’ ” (204).

Not everyone is as tolerant as Cleve, of course. “They sick, men” (205), says Kico, one of the promiscuous acquaintances of Cleve’s partner, who believes that heterosexuals should be killed or sent to Madagascar. Things get worse for the straights as a new disease spreads among this layer of the population. “A spokesman for the Anti-Family Church Coalition predictably announced that the straight subculture had brought this scourge on itself” (214).

In “Straight Fiction” and the other stories in which Amis uses such drastic changes of perspective, the author forces the reader to consider his or her everyday assumptions from a fresh approach. Situations normally taken for granted are questioned, prejudices are revealed, and the possibility is raised that some of our interpretations of reality are ideologically biased and therefore subject to change. From a different point of view, “Straight Fiction” is an excellent showcase for Amis’s stylistic creativity. Practically every feature that has made him a literary innovator can be found in this narrative. This story is an example of prose in which Amis feels “the need to stamp each sentence with his literary personality,” a technique that, according to Adam Mars-Jones (457), “defeats his ambitions as a literary artist.” In any case, verbal excess is Amis’s trademark, as he told Christopher Bigsby in an interview: “I don’t like this clear-as-a-mountain-creek kind of writing, this vow-of-poverty prose” (179) and in “Straight Fiction” the stylistic explosion takes place in the form of neologisms, puns, tongue twisters, impossible word formations, surprising sound patterns, typographic experiments, etc., apart from his usual recourse to irony, conceit or hyperbole. The reading of this story is an experience that overwhelms the reader.

As usually happens in Amis’s work when he exposes a problem in fictional terms, it is not free of controversial aspects. Gay people, who have traditionally been marginalized, here occupy a position of hegemony, but the only female character is the one who worries about domestic chores: “The cooker, the clothes dryer, the conversion of the box room – should she paint it blue or pink?” (214). Furthermore, the author’s tendency to sort things out at the end, to put everything back in a “natural” order, casts some doubts on Amis’s commitment to a real critique of preconceived ideas.

Analysis of Martin Amis’s Let Me Count the Times

Analysis of Martin Amis’s The Immortals

Amis, Martin. Einstein’s Monsters. 1987. London: Penguin, 1988.
———. “Martin Amis Interviewed by Christopher Bigsby.” In New Writing, edited by Malcolm Bradbury and Judy Cooke, 169–184. London: Minerva and The British Council, 1992.
———. “Straight Fiction.” In Heavy Water and Other Stories, 195–221. London: Jonathan Cape, 1998.
Mars-Jones, Adam. “Fireworks at the Funeral,” Times Literary Supplement, 1 May 1987, p. 457.

Categories: British Literature, Literature, Short Story

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