This week’s New Yorker contains a review of Don DeLillo’s new short-story collection, The Angel Esmeralda: Nine Stories, by none other than the novelist Martin Amis. (Perhaps The New Yorker’s usual fiction critic, James Wood, was licking his Jonathan Lethem–induced wounds?) Amis “loves” it. But, more provocatively, he opens his review arguing, “When we say that we love a writer’s work, we are always stretching the truth: what we really mean is that we love about half of it,” and then he states some of his preferred halves: “The vast presence of Joyce relies pretty well entirely on Ulysses, with a little help from Dubliners. You could jettison Kafka’s three attempts at full-length fiction without muffling the impact of his seismic originality … and Janeites will never admit that three of the six novels are comparative weaklings (I mean Sense and Sensibility, Mansfield Park, and Persuasion).” This is interesting not only because it’s a highbrow-fun parlor game, but because Amis is implicitly encouraging us to play it with his own work. (No novelist — or person — proposes the above without considering how it applies to him or herself.) We suspect that Amis has already divided his oeuvre into the half he loves and the half he doesn’t, the half that matters and the half that doesn’t, and is now pushing us to do the same. So fine, we’ll play: The Rachel Papers, Money, London Fields, Experience, The Pregnant Widow, and he can keep the rest.
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