Book Review: Readings

Martin Amis tries breathlessly to evoke the post-9/11 change in the zeitgeist and, less successfully, to find a moral ground from which to respond


The Second Plane: September 11: Terror and Boredom

by Martin Amis
Knopf, 224 pp., $24

The second plane, Martin Amis writes, carried with it the bad news that America was not witness to an accident but an attack. "The apotheosis of the postmodern era," Amis calls it. "For us, its glint was the worldflash of the coming future."

Through two short stories, seven essays, and five reviews, Amis tries breathlessly both to evoke this change in the zeitgeist and to find a moral ground from which to respond. It's a noble task and one fit for an author of his reputation. Amis has never been one to avert his eyes from an unpleasant truth or incuriously parrot the sentiments of his peers. Unfortunately, his enterprise here too often goes the way of Bush and Blair's War on Terror – that is to say, it mires itself in a clumsy attempt to bend a fifth of the world's population (Muslims) to its own purposes.

In his novels, Amis excels at conveying the pathologies of an age in a single protagonist. He accomplishes exactly this in a short story titled "The Last Days of Muhammad Atta." Amis writes: "He had allied himself with the militants because jihad was, by many magnitudes, the most charismatic idea of his generation. ... If you took away all the rubbish about faith, then fundamentalism suited his character, and with an almost sinister precision." The description of Atta is fascinating, operating under the authority of a fiction writer. When Amis the essayist tries to ascribe similar psychologies to the entire Islamic world, or at least to the practicing religious segment of it, he gets into trouble.

Amis recently caused a stir in the United Kingdom with his suggestion that people of Middle Eastern descent ought to be profiled and discriminated against until "they start getting tough with their children." These comments are not merely insensitive. They betray a fundamental lack of nuance in cross-cultural thinking. When, in the essay "Terrorism and Boredom," he concedes in brazen understatement, "Even Westernism, so impeccably bland, has violence glinting within it," one wants to urge him to follow that plane, the one raining death from above on Iraqi civilians these past five years.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More war on terror
Terror and Consent: The Wars for the Twenty-First Century
Terror and Consent: The Wars for the Twenty-First Century
A UT Law professor's tremendously nuanced collision of big ideas

Spencer Parsons, May 23, 2008

Army Chaplain at Guantánamo to Speak
Army Chaplain at Guantánamo to Speak
First permanent Muslim chaplain accessible to detainees to speak at UT

Richard Whittaker, March 21, 2008

More Book Reviews
<i>Presidio</i> by Randy Kennedy
Presidio by Randy Kennedy
For his debut novel, Kennedy creates a road story that portrays the harsh West Texas terrain beautifully and fills it with sympathetic characters.

Jay Trachtenberg, Sept. 14, 2018

Hunting the Golden State Killer in <i>I'll Be Gone in the Dark</i>
Hunting the Golden State Killer in I'll Be Gone in the Dark
How Michelle McNamara tracked a killer before her untimely death

Jonelle Seitz, July 20, 2018

More by Michael Agresta
Obamacare After the Mandate
Obamacare After the Mandate
Making the most of ACA enrollment for 2019

Nov. 2, 2018

Charlene deGuzman Tackles Sex and Love Addiction in SXSW Film <i>Unlovable</i>
Charlene deGuzman Tackles Sex and Love Addiction in SXSW Film Unlovable
Love is sickness, not the cure in this anti-rom-com

March 9, 2018


war on terror, The Second Plane: September 11: Terror and Boredom

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle