Is that what the writer should do—shirk the task and strike an attitude?” asks a character in Martin Amis’s provocative Yellow Dog. The answer is obvious, but when a book is about a particularly regressive or superficial way of looking at things—here, society’s irrepressible infatuation with the “obscene”—it becomes harder to separate the task itself from the attitude that the author simulates, as some of the critical dismissals of Yellow Dog prove.
The Cerberus of a plot tracks “so-called ‘renaissance man’ ” Xan Meo, who reverts to Cro-Magnon state after a head injury, and thereafter wrestles with his now unmediated desires; Clint Smoker, an unscrupulous tabloid journalist pursuing an e-lationship with “k8”; and pedomorphic King Henry IX, who tries to nip a scandal involving a sex tape of his teenage daughter, Vicky. During his convalescence, Meo affords some unsettling primal glimpses, e.g., “the pleasure the smell gave him—the smell of shit lite.” That shit belongs to Billie, his four-year-old daughter, and the sexual subtext is more than just implied. Father-daughter incest is a hot topic in Yellow Dog, along with “masculine bulk” and patriarchy, themes that grow to John Holmes proportions as a Vicky-inspired skin flick moves the action to Lovetown, California, epicenter of the porn industry. The bared puns and cool descriptions of genres (“Hatefuck,” “Cockout”) have all the visceral impact of a Facial, a crude utility that turns out to be consistent with the rest of the book; but this is hardly a failure of intent. In Yellow Dog, Amis strips the world of its moral patina and fleshes it out in the post-satiric mode of the pornographic, which he expertly adopts, mocks, and transposes into a naked-lunch poetics. It bears the scars of Amis’s getting down to business.