Embarrassment of Riches by Brian Murrayn”Semper inops quicumque cupit’n(Whoever yearns is always poor)nMartin Amis: Money: A SuicidenNote; Viking; New York; $16.95.nAnita Brookner: Hotel du Lac;nPantheon Books; New York; $13.95.nDuring the 1950’s, an increasingnnumber of middle Americans nonlonger took seriously the principle thatnhonest work carefully performed is itsnown true reward. As the exhortativenance Packard and a host of othernsocial critics noted, these Americansndefined themsehes not by the worknthey did, but by the number of productsnthey owned and by the way innwhich they passed their leisure hours.nThey tended not to worry about eithernthe collapse of the Protestant Ethic ornthe assorted side effects of selfindulgence;nthey were, however, deeplynconcerned that perhaps old Jonesnnext door was working even less andnclearing more.nDuring the prosperous.60’s, countlessnnovelists, moviemakers, and rocknsingers attacked money-grubbing andn”conspicuous consumption.” Butnnone simultaneously echoed ThomasnCarlyle’s assertion that “all true work isnsacred”; that “one Monster there is innthe world—the idle man.” In fact,nthroughout the 60’s the opinion makersnwith the best access to the massesnrepeatedly indicated that the pursuit ofnpleasure was unquestionably the centralnaim of life and that true pleasurenwas almost always spontaneous, sensual,nand “free.” The decade’s films werenparticularly full of “uptight” businessmennwho finally tell off their tyrannicalnbosses and, donning blue jeans,nhead west in quest of the endless wavenor the highest high.nThe message took hold. Throughoutnthe 70’s, those American industriesnthat packaged or promised “fun”ntended to prosper even as the rest ofnthe economy struggled and the nation-nBrian Murray is professor of Englishnat Youngstown State University.n—Claudiannal debt soared. Marijuana farmers andncocaine salesmen did parhcularly well,nas did the peddlers of what in the 40’snand 50’s would have been widely andnderisively described as smut. By thenmid-70’s, such explicit publications asnPenthouse and Hustler were openlyndisplayed on newsstands and in conveniencenstores; films with the most moronicnof pornographic themes pro-noked no mockery and little discussionnas they played in full theaters acrossnthe nation. Indeed, one of the decade’snmost successful films, Emmanuel,ncentered on a wealthy young Frenchnwoman who seeks to relieve her ennuinnot with a brisk walk or a couple ofnchocolate truffles, but by flying tonThailand and bedding down with halfnthe population of Bangkok.nDuring the 70’s, money itself madena rousing comeback. After all, as Emmanuelnproved, money can secure allnsorts of thrills and diversions; it alsonconfers considerable prestige —nparticularly at a time when, thanks tonhigh interest rates and relatively highnunemployment, money is scarce. Bynthe early 80’s, television’s most popularnmelodramas focused on the maneuveringsnand indiscretions of assortednsun-belt millionaires, whosenhairstyles and wardrobes continue tonbe extensively publicized and aped.nThe most widely publicized books promotednwhat Carlyle had denounced asnthe “Gospel of Mammonism”: theynbore titles like Money Power and AggressivenInvesting and waxed ecstaticnabout T-Bills, CD’s, and municipalnbonds. Among the most sought-afternpublic speakers were those platitudinariansnwhose motivational sermonsnwere well-laced with gaudy images ofnthe financial nirvana that awaits us all.nEven ex-Yippie Jerry Rubin hit thenlecture circuit to assure those “babyboomers”nwho had soaked up the pop-nMarxist slogans of the 60’s that yes, itnwas now perfectiy all right to be rollingnin dough.nMartin Amis’ fifth novel, Money, isnset in London and New York City innnn1981. Its narrator-protagonist, JohnnSelf, informs us early on that hisn”dream in life” is simply “to make lotsnof money.” Self lives in London butngrew up principally in the UnitednStates, where he says he acquired “thengroundwork for my addictions to junknfood, sweet drinks, strong cigarettes,nadvertising, all-day television—and,nperhaps, to pornography and fighting.”nNow 35, Self cynically directsntelevision commercials for such dubiousnproducts as “a new kind of flashfriablenpork-and-egg bap or roll or heroncalled a Hamlette”; he is also vaguelyninvolved in the production of a film.nGood Money, that is to be aimed atnthat large and lucrative audience thatndemands nothing more than limitedndialogue and lots of sleaze. Because henis both well-connected and thoroughlynvulgar. Self finds that—in his racket atnleast—“making money is a breeze.”nHe drives a high-priced, gizmostuddednsports car; in London henmaintains what he describes withoutnirony as “a kind of playboy pad.”nIn his constant — automatic —npursuit of sexual gratification, Selfnfrequents massage parlors, hires costiyn”takeout women” and — in bars —nhabitually sidles up to women whonlook drunk or vulnerable enough tontolerate his slurred and clumsy solicitations.nDaily he finds time to visit atnleast one “porno-loop parlour” whereneven the most twisted of gents can findnsomething to suit their tastes. Here,nalone in a darkened cubicle, the jadednSelf drops quarters into a video machinenthat throws up a steady stream ofnX-rated vignettes, including a few thatnfeature scenes of bestiality and ofn”chicks getting roughed up.”nOne of Self’s favorite eating spots innLondon is a Burger Den franchise thatnmoved in where there once operatednan Italian restaurant that had “linenntablecloths and rumpy, strict, blackcladnwaitresses.” The passing of thisnmore idiosyncratic eatery does notntrouble Self in the least; in fact—asnthe hawker of the Hamlette—he delightsnin the seemingly inexorablenspread of all the Burger Dens andnBurger Hutches and Burger Bowers ofnthe world. “Fast food,” he recognizes,n”equals fast money.”nSelf blows considerable cash onnFEBRUARY 1986 / 13n