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For an unabashedly good Amis novel, try Money (1984), in which the obese, alcoholic pornographer John Self lurches across eighties Manhattan, from “doublebarrelled Park Avenue” to “the industrial corsetry of FDR Drive” to “the fuming puddles of Times Square.” For a Londoner, Amis gets most everything absolutely right: the “meat-eating genies of subway breath,” the “psychopathic” July heat (“New York can’t be serious about this”), “the zeds of the fire-escapes,” the businessmen at noon “with lunchbox faces and truant eyes,” and the way Broadway—“the only curve in this world of grids”—“always contrives to be just that little bit shittier than the zones through which it bends.” In the end, despite the city’s grotesquerie and filth, the novel pays tribute to “all the contention, the democracy, all the italics, in the air”:


Young men playing chess on the hoods of parked cars. A pale tattoo on a pale old arm. Here they come again, young and old, health and distemper mixing like American prodigies of money and no money, beauty and malformation, Manhattan miracles of heat and cold. Some of the people are in terrible disrepair. Boy, could they use a little investment, a little gentrification. But I love the dense variety. Yes, it stirs me. After this, London feels watery and sparse.


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