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IN BRIEF

Nonfiction

October 23, 1994|CHRIS GOODRICH

THE ANTI-EGOTIST: Kingsley Amis, Man of Letters by Paul Fussell (Oxford University Press: $22; 224 pp.). It must have struck the publisher as a marvelous pairing--independent, forthright, wide-ranging, witty, often cantankerous writer Paul Fussell commenting on independent, forthright, wide-ranging, witty, often cantankerous writer Kingsley Amis. Alas, it was a mistake: Fussell is not only a friend of Amis, but too much like him, it appears, to be able to produce anything more than a sycophantic portrait. One problem with "The Anti-Egotist" makes itself known in the first paragraph, when Fussell notes that he has left to one side Amis' best-known work, his fiction, in order to concentrate on his criticism and poetry. A second appears more gradually, when Fussell makes clear that he plans to argue that "Sir Kingsley," as Amis is occasionally referred to in this book, is a "moralist" of the old school. Fussell, author of such first-rate nonfiction as "The Great War" and "Modern Memory and Wartime," makes his case to a certain extent . . . and then proceeds to demolish it by attempting to incorporate within that moral framework Amis' views on the proper way to host a cocktail party, his years as a restaurant critic, and some intemperate screeds against the modern and post-modern (such as Amis' notorious essay "Sod the Public: A Consumer's Guide"). Fussell responds within the book to a few of Amis' critics, among them Saul Bellow, but the rejoinders are usually lame--an indication that Fussell, like Amis, would rather dismiss severe criticism than understand it. Neither Fussell's nor Amis' reputation will be enhanced by this volume.

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