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Yellow Dog

by Martin Amis

About.com Rating 3 Star Rating


Yellow Dog by Martin Amis
ISBN: 1401352030
Miramax 2003

Martin Amis is no stranger to the nittier and grittier walks of life. Amis's novels are filled with sex, drugs, and violence, and is an expert at creating despicable characters for whom you can't help but feeling a little bit sympathetic. His latest novel, Yellow Dog, should please fans of his morbid sense of humor, layered storytelling, and uniquely descriptive language. But while achieving success in portions Yellow Dog falls short of bringing everything together as a whole . The writing is definitely here, in droves, but the story Amis has created just can't quite match up. His writing is so sharp, his wit so quick, that in Yellow Dog Amis outwrites his own plotline, which is playfully mired in its own depravity.

Yellow Dog is a tale of men behaving extremely badly. Its three main plotlines: That of a model father turned monster after being victimized in a brutal assault; A national scandal involving the British princess who has shown up in a porno video; and a muddled, out-of-place narrative of a corpse-carrying passenger plane, whose deceased cargo seems to be pushing the flight on a path to disaster, don't always mesh well, particularly the third, which never quite made sense to me.
It often seems to be a case of Amis overloading the story with incidental and unnecessary diversions. The plane sections as a whole confusing and frivolous, and though I'm sure they serve a purpose, I still can't figure out what it was after having finished the book and had a few days to think about it.

That section, though, is only on the periphery of a much larger story. Ultimately, Yellow Dog takes on the old adage about the sins of the father being borne upon the son (though in this case, more than a few daughters are also at risk). The two catalysts for the sordid string of events that make up the novel are Mick Meo and Joseph Andrews( think of Don Logan as played by Ben Kingsley in Jonathan Glazer's Sexy Beast ). But it is Mick and Joseph's children, in particular Mick's son Xan, who feel the punishment for the crimes of the father.

Xan takes a terrible knock on the head in the book's opening chapter during an attack which stems from the ongoing feud between Mick and Joseph.
The blow to the head effectively transforms Xan from a modern day Ward Cleaver to a character out of, well, a Martin Amis novel. After the flogging, Mick becomes an imposing monster in his house, threatening his wife, and developing a severely unfatherly interest in his youngest daughter.

Amis can be a tough read, and the sections that describe Xan's infatuation with his daughter are downright stomach-turning. Amis describes how Xan's ideas about being a father have changed since the attack: "They're mine, and I can't protect them. So why not rend them? Why not rape them?" He continues, "You can live as an animal lives, and he thought he knew, now, why an animal would eat its young. To protect them-to put them back." It's an uncomfortable read-imagining a father considering the idea of raping and dismembering his daughter (and to think I picked out a particularly subdued example)-but Amis presents Xan with neither a pointed finger nor a detached uncaring that writers of such subjects can fall victim to.

But, where Yellow Dog falters is when Amis straddles the line between comedy and disturbance, with it never really being clear which side is supposed to come across clearest. The sections of the book dealing with Clint Smoker, a London tabloid journalist who writes a column under the pseudonym Yellow Dog, are a perfect example. To say that Smoker is the most despicable character in the novel is certainly saying something, after all Xan is a prospective rapist and child molestor and Mick and Joseph are no saints either. But Amis has too much fun pushing the envelope through Clint for him to come across as the dirge of humanity that he is. In doing so, he doesn't come off really any worse than any of the other ghouls in Yellow Dog.

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