by James Wolcott, The New Republic, October 19, 2012
Amis was never the sort of cozy writer who could settle into a plummy mellow maturity—as in Time’s Arrow and The Information, his mature voice bears the mortal freight of history’s horrors and of personal extinction—and as he keeps sharp watch on the chipping away of body and mind by aging’s cruel elves, going full curmudgeon isn’t really an option. His father beat him to it with his fussing about language and his reactionary effusions, and the son is too adventurous to revive that crusty vaudeville act. Another model offers itself: his hero and mentor Saul Bellow, who managed to maintain up to the end a sly, clued-in voice that had an octopus reach of everything around it—a confidential monologue at the service of Bellow’s wraparound curiosity and cagey parsing of others’ motives, which became so embracing that his later novellas turned into conversational suites. But dialogue in Amis’s novels, which certainly is plentiful, stays stuck on the platform, since he is less interested in the intimacies of characters than in the ideas or the conceits that they envelop, and there is no dialectic between his cut-out dolls, no Shavian jousting. Lionel Asbo ends with a domestic note of renewal, of new life coming into the world, but it is an unconvincing, hackneyed exit, because Amis is not really engaged in new life coming in but in old life going out, the twilight shimmer before the curtain drop. He hasn’t found a way to voyage into it yet, as Bellow did and Philip Roth ragingly has. He’s got time, but the hour is late.