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Flights of Rage
Salman Rushdie's Fury

by Charlie Onion

In his first American novel, Salman Rushdie offers a book whose bitingly satirical themes are more interesting than its plot.

"Mysteries drive us all," Salman Rushdie writes in his new novel, Fury. "We only glimpse their veiled faces, but their power pushes us onward, toward darkness. Or into the light." All of us--college professors, Wall Street investors, cab drivers--live in a dark, Freudian world, and we are each of us, Rushdie argues, struggling desperately to deny our own furious animal selves.


Fury--sexual, Oedipal, political, magical, brutal--drives us to our finest heights and coarsest depths. Out of furia comes creation, inspiration, originality, passion, but also violence, pain, pure unafraid destruction, the giving and receiving of blows from which we never recover. The Furies pursue us; Shiva dances his furious dance to create and


Salman Rushdie
Random House
259 pp.

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destroy....This is what we are, what we civilize ourselves to disguise--the terrifying human animal in us, the exalted, transcendent, self-destructive, untrammeled lord of creation. We raise each other to the heights of joy. We tear each other limb from fucking limb.


Malik Solanka, the fifty-five-year-old former Cambridge professor and improbably successful dollmaker at the center of Fury, understands the dangers of slipping into the dark, destructive side of fury. As his wife and small son lay asleep in their London home, he'd stood over her with a knife "for a terrible, dumb minute" feeling, as Rushdie puts it, "murder on the brain." The experience--of which Solanka's wife remains ignorant--is frightening enough to propel Solanka out of the family, and he flees to New York. Now, as Fury opens, Solanka lives alone in a richly appointed Manhattan apartment (where, Rushdie tells us, parts of Woody Allen's Husbands and Wives were filmed), and he wanders the streets, raging silently over the superficialities and falsehoods contemporary society offers up as a reason to work, a reason to deny the truth.

Solanka has come to America--the land of self-creation--to 'erase' his previous self (marriage, parenthood and all), and the computer metaphor implicit in the erasure image is central to Rushdie's anti-digital themes. The computer age is corrupted, and its code needs to be 'de-bugged,' just as Solanka's self-code must be. "If he could cleanse the whole machine," Rushdie tells us, "then maybe the bug, too, would end up in the trash." But an obvious contradiction seems to lie at the heart of Solanka's flight to New York. The forest dweller--traditionally, a Hindu who has given up his family and possessions in pursuit of enlightenment--moves by definition away from society, not into its very heart. Solanka's own attempt at being a forest-dweller (for surely in some sense that it was his flight represents) is greatly complicated by his immersion not into the society-free forest but instead into New York's self-absorbed, fury-driven wrong-headedness.

Inevitably, the problems Solanka sees in himself also appear around him in Manhattan, and while the parallels may seem a little too easy, it does set up a surprising plot twist. After he drinks himself into a series of blackouts and awakens to read that a man matching his description has killed yet another New York City woman, Solanka (and we readers) must ask: has Solanka's fury reached a new level of destructiveness?

Fury is not a fast-paced serial-killer thriller. Rushdie is probably incapable of writing such a thing. In fact, Fury is a bit slow, overall, at least when it comes to plot. Too much of the action offered in the first half of the novel takes place in the past (thereby robbing it of dramatic urgency and immediacy), and the narrative in the present is too often a matter of Solanka's dramatically static if angry observations about contemporary society. Indeed, Rushdie's creative energies here are largely directed into playfully pun-driven rhetorical rantings. Admittedly, some of it is impressive in its rhythms and scope:


O Dream-America, was civilization's quest to end in obesity and trivia, at Roy Rogers and Planet Hollywood, in USA Today and on E!; or in million-dollar-game-show greed or fly-on-the-wall voyeurism; or in the eternal confessional booth of Ricki [sic] and Oprah and Jerry, whose guests murdered each other after the show; or in a spurt of gross-out dumb-and-dumber comedies designed for young people who sat in the darkness howling their ignorance at the silver screen; or even at the unattainable tables of Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Alain Ducasse? What of the search for the hidden keys that unlock the doors of exaltation? Who demolished the City on the Hill and put in its place a row of electric chairs, those dealers in death's democracy, where everyone, the innocent, the mentally deficient, the guilty, could come to die side by side? Who paved Paradise and put up a parking lot? Who settled for George W. Gush's boredom and Al Bore's gush? Who let Charlton Heston out of his cage and then asked why children were getting shot? What, America, of the Grail? O ye Yankee Galahads, ye Hoosier Lancelots, O Parsifals of the stockyards, what of the Table Round?


But Solanka has to carry more than his relatively uninteresting character can handle. He's too passive--often, he's simply a keen observer with a backstory--and it weakens the novel's narrative thrust considerably. At one point, Rushdie writes, "This about New York Solanka liked a lot--this sense of being crowded out by other people's stories, of walking like a phantom through a city that was in the middle of a story which didn't need him as a character." The reader can't help thinking that Solanka himself often seems crowded out of his own novel. Fury never achieves the beautiful speed of The Satanic Verses' opening section or the rich complexities Rushdie offered in the storyline of Midnight's Children. Rushdie certainly remains a top-tier writer to follow, but this time out, it's the themes behind the story that will hold readers. And for a writer associated with fantastical, magical realist-driven storylines, that's strange, indeed.


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