Where Have I Read That Before?

Article excerpt

Byline: Jennie Yabroff

In Martin Amis's first novel, The Rachel Papers, 19-year-old Charles has girlfriend troubles, family troubles, money troubles, and body troubles (he's short, skinny, and morbidly obsessed with his teeth). In the 37 years since Charles's debut, Amis has written journalism, criticism, and a dozen novels. He is one of Britain's best-known writers, a common figure in both the tabloids and the op-ed pages. He's been married twice, become a grandfather, and buried his own father, the novelist Kingsley Amis. It would seem unavoidable that life has changed his perspective--his 2000 memoir was called Experience. Yet his latest novel, The Pregnant Widow, opens with a 20-year-old named Keith worrying about his girlfriend, his family, his lack of money, his short stature, and his bad teeth.

Writers like Amis, one assumes, acquire a certain wisdom over their careers: what they know at 20 must be different from what they have to say at 60. Otherwise, why do they keep writing? (And why do we keep reading?) But what if that assumption is wrong? What if, as The Pregnant Widow suggests, experience teaches us nothing--if our 20-year-old selves are as wise as we'll ever get?

The Pregnant Widow intersperses scenes of young Keith with glimpses of current-day Keith, now in his late 50s and still brooding about his 21st year. He hates getting old: "When you become old, you find yourself auditioning for the role of a lifetime; then, after interminable rehearsals, you're finally starring in a horror film--a talentless, irresponsible, and above all low-budget horror film. …