It was clear in 1981 that Salman Rushdie was a writer to be reckoned with; his reading of Midnight's Children in New Delhi drew a crowd so large that it spilled outside the auditorium and was forced to listen via loudspeakers. Rushdie became a household name when his Satanic Verses earned him a death sentence from offended Muslims. The price on his head is gone now, and after taking on Shame in 1983, Rushdie again sidesteps those "poetic" emotions like love and longing in favor of exploring human Fury.
Fittingly, Fury is set in New York, and though the narrator is Indian, the book's focus is squarely on America. Referencing everything from 'N Sync to Clinton's blow job to the election between "Gush and Bore," Malik Solanka's wrath is broad and unclear, even to him. What sends him fleeing to the Big Apple is a rather disturbing moment when he finds himself standing over his wife and child, knife in his hand. He seeks the tools to conquer his rage in the arms of two women and on the city streets (where a serial killer is running loose, striking women on the back of the head with chunks of concrete).
The chief benefit of the book is that it allows for long cathartic tirades. It provides Rushdie cover to lash out at his targets, and he puts it to good use. Yet Fury is a wickedly funny book. Solanka is a historian who earns his millions when the "Great Minds" dolls he invents for a history-of-philosophy BBC program become the next big thing. The concept gets dumbed down for a wider audience and converted into an inane kids show, movies and a line of toys that surpasses Star Wars action figures in sales. At the core of his frustrations, we get the feeling, is America, the world's McDonald's, adept at pumping out cheap fascinations:
"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 the eternal confessional booth of Ricki and Oprah and Jerry or in a spurt of gross-out dumb-and-dumber comedies designed for young people who sat in darkness howling their ignorance at the silver screen?" Or put more simply: "Who paved Paradise and put up a parking lot?"
Everyone is American now. People the world over gladly forgo their homegrown goulash and tandoori in favor of gathering beneath the Golden Arches, the one flag that flies over every nation. Perhaps that's the most frustrating thing of all. Reading Fury, you feel you are listening to the complaints of a man increasingly out of step, that rarest of breeds who still prefers to chew slowly and savor the details and texture of experience, and yearns to look deeply in a world of gloss and finishes.