Salman Rushdie's 'Fury'- The artfulness keeps growing

On Books

September 02, 2001|By Michael Pakenham | Michael Pakenham,SUN STAFF

It would be improbable for me to dislike a book by Salman Rushdie. He has written seven previous novels, a collection of short fiction and four nonfiction books. I have read much of that, and he has yet to fail me. He goes on growing - on me, at least.

Now comes Fury (Random House, 259 pages, $24.95). It's remarkably short, concise, in contrast to his superb and sprawling The Moor's Last Sigh (1996, 434 pages) and The Ground Beneath Her Feet (1999, 575 pages).

Rushdie narrates Fury in a voice that is cosmopolitan, confiding and casual. His craftsmanship is distinguished by the fluency and clarity that are characteristic of much of his other work, amplified by relentless irony. As always, he taps an armory of personal culture, classic literature, history and metaphysics - Eastern and Western - as well as the hippest of contemporary fads and fancies. That greatly ornaments the text. More valuably, it deepens the book.

The central character is Malik Solanka. Some years before Fury's action begins, he set aside a Cambridge University professorial career, declaring to his wife, "The grave yawns for us all, but for college dons it yawns with boredom." An obsessive amateur doll-maker, he developed into a celebrated public figure with his "Little Brain" - a sort of high intellectual Barbie, "smart, sassy, unafraid, genuinely interested in the deep information, in the getting of good-quality wisdom."

In a regular animated television show, she challenged the great minds of history - dolls themselves, who leaped through time. The series in Britain was detested by self-important intellectuals and adored by almost everybody else. Movies, books, dolls, toys, other merchandise made Solanka a fortune. But he discovered that commercial exploitation had turned the enterprise into "a monster of tawdry celebrity he most profoundly abhorred."

As Fury begins, Solanka has left his wife of 15 years and their 3-year-old son. He is "celibate and solitary by his own (and much criticized) choice." He has fled in fear of his own potential for violence - internal fury. In almost hermitic exile in New York in the summer of 2000, these fears continue. He is profoundly depressed.

Fury - the title and concept - is the irrepressibly driving internal human force that Solanka believes is the energy behind the darkest evils in the world and the most productive creativity.

New York is presented with immense richness and keen precision - four-dimensional, with time rushing furiously on. To this original New Yorker, Rushdie's reportorial eye seems faultless.

Solanka had hoped to be redeemed by the city, but he is not:

"How had he ever persuaded himself that this money-mad burg would rescue him all by itself, this Gotham in which Jokers and Penguins were running riot with no Batman (or even Robin) to frustrate their schemes, this Metropolis built of Kryptonite in which no Superman dared set foot, where wealth was mistaken for riches and the joy of possession for happiness, where people lived such polished lives that the great rough truths of raw existence had been rubbed and buffed away, and in which human souls had wandered so separately for so long that they barely remembered how to touch; this city whose fabled electricity powered the electric fences that were being erected between men and men, and men and women, too?"

Rushdie knows New York.

There is loose in Manhattan a serial killer who has murdered three beautiful, brilliant and privileged young women by bludgeoning them with a hunk of concrete. They become symbols - of the appetites and dangers of the unrestrained high life of New York. Solanka meets Mila Milo, a madly hip young woman who had mocked him until she found he was the inventor of Little Brain, her life heroine. He's cheered by fondness for her.

Throughout the book, there is an immediacy, an almost jangling energy that seems never to slow. It swept me up and kept me there. Will it do the same for every reader? I don't know.

A chaste, intense flirtation with Mila begins to bring him out of isolation. Solanka then meets Neela, a drop-dead-beautiful and brilliant woman of Indian origin, from an Asian island long ago settled by an Indian minority. Falling in love, he reflects: "Pack your bags, Furies, he thought, you no longer reside at this address. If he was right, and the origin of fury lay in life's accumulating disappointments, then he had found the antidote that transformed the poison into its opposite. For furia could be ecstasy, too. ... Rage grew out of despair, but Neela was hope fulfilled."

From this point on, the novel moves swiftly toward resolution. There is a great deal of action.

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