One of The Pregnant Widow’s great orgasmic pleasures is the return—after all these years—of Amis’s mighty prose: the metaphors (a helicopter is “a furious asterisk”), the exaggeration (“The air itself was about to throw up”), the comic repetition (“This was a not very erotic remark about a not very erotic situation, and Keith’s reply to it was not very erotic”). It’s all tight and poppy—the kind of writing I’m tempted to quote all day long. Something about these kids in their microcosmic castle seems to have kicked Amis’s motor back into high gear. And energy, in Amis, can make us forgive a lot of sins: the sourness, the silly names, the compulsive Shakespeare quoting, the troubling fixity of the male gaze. It all gets rinsed away on waves of laughter.
Unfortunately, however, Amis isn’t content with his near-perfect comic novel. He keeps writing. When the Italian summer ends, The Pregnant Widow continues. Freed from the dramatic unity of the sex capers, things get ponderous in a hurry. Comedy slides over into the passenger seat; sociology takes the wheel. Minor characters become major. The plot contorts itself in search of current events. We’re asked to care about things the book hasn’t prepared us to care about. It feels a lot like aughts Amis. Not that this necessarily detracts from the high comedy of the book’s first three quarters. It’s just that, after tasting the good stuff again, I want more. Which, in this case, would have been less.