Kennedy Marr is a success – a successful novelist, taking a break in L.A to be a successful screenplay writer. He deals in martinis, pussy and fights, never stopping long enough for reality to kick in. The book starts with a multi-tasking wank scene like no other….’was that an aubergine?‘
A divorce left behind in England becomes central when U.S taxes catch up with him, and the only way out monetarily is to accept an award to teach at a Warwickshire university. His daughter Robin, 16, has never really known him, but follows his actions in the tabloids.
There are countless moments of total comedy; shocking language strung together so well as to create new images of depravity. One memorable scene involves Kennedy telling a woman he hopes she gets syphilis, ‘the kind that makes your cock look like a foot’. Pages later Niven can strike the reader in the gut with some universal truth about death. The beauty of Kennedy as a character is that, as a novelist, he can be gut-wrenchingly disgusting about sex, and balance that immediately with his intellect. Niven uses this brilliantly, and the reader is never far from a teary breakdown, even if Kennedy Marr is waxing poetic about fucking some PYT in the ass.
Also in the mix is the creation of a Hollywood political thriller Marr has written. Constant rewrites, age-inappropriate sex, actors taking roles with PR points in mind – the satire of particular monsters involved in the industry throws back to Kill Your Friends, Niven’s debut, with music switched for cinema.
Most important here, though, are Kennedy’s memories of his deceased sister, Geraldine. There’s a pervasive feeling that Kennedy believes he could easily have switched places with her. Rendered so perfectly, expanded upon in distant installments, Geraldine’s story brings the reader’s emotions to an unbearably cold place. It’s a perfect, genuine component of a novel that, from the marketing, could easily have been discarded as a ‘laddy’ ‘romp’ (eurgh). Straight White Male will struggle to avoid comparison to some of Martin Amis’ work, particularly The Rachel Papers and Money, but Niven’s ability to get a reader so completely onside with someone who should be an antihero must be allowed a place of its own.
Straight White Male is a book about regret, more than anything. That Ian Curtis line, ‘existence; well what does it matter? I exist on the best terms I can’ is beautiful poetry, but if you read into it, it could just as easily apply to Kennedy Marr’s seedy, sordid life of movie stars and cocaine. Seeing how it falls apart and rejoins is an excellent journey, and Straight White Male is the best book I’ve read this year.