In his last novel, The Ground Beneath Her Feet, Salman Rushdie gave us a modern rendering of the Orpheus story set in the jet-setting world of pop music. A bit less kaleidoscopic, but no less hyperbolic, Rushdie's challenging new novel again relies heavily on mythology. Its title, Fury, refers in part to the calamity-slinging Furies of Greek myth. But it also draws on the word's modern meaning of rage, and though ostensibly a comedy, this is an unabashedly rage-filled book.
Rushdie's main target here is New York City, and by extension the U.S. -- or at least the decadence and pretension that he thinks are piloting America's globe-dominating culture at the beginning of the 21st century. "The city boiled with money," he writes on the first page. "Rents and property values had never been higher, and in the garment industry it was widely held that fashion had never been so fashionable. New restaurants opened every hour. Stores, dealerships, galleries struggled to satisfy the skyrocketing demand for ever more recherche produce: limited-edition olive oils, three-hundred-dollar corkscrews, customized Humvees."
Into this land of excess drops Malik Solanka, a Bombay-born, British-educated historian who has fled to New York after almost murdering his sleeping wife and child with a kitchen knife in a trance-like state of, yes, fury. Solanka, who is a millionaire thanks to the international marketing success of a puppet he created, is holing up in an overpriced sublet on the Upper West Side. Given to sudden lapses of memory and reports of some purportedly strange public behavior on his part, Solanka wonders if he might be the serial killer slaying some of the city's most high-profile debutantes with slabs of concrete. While that mystery plays out, the plot unfolds like a surreal nightmare (or myth). Solanka's destiny becomes entangled with two unusual women: Mila Milo, a Serbian emigre, and Neela Mahendra, an ethnic Indian from a South Seas island nation. In the end, Solanka, with the rash abandon of a mythological hero, trades embattled New York for a real war zone, as he pursues Neela and a last chance at love.
Rushdie is an important writer on the world stage, with his books translated into 37 languages. While Fury may not be the best introduction to his work, it displays a good sampling of the bedazzling erudition, clever word play and philosophical meanderings with which this singular writer has managed both to enchant and to antagonize so many readers around the globe.
Robert Weibezahl is a Los Angeles-based writer.