Edge

Self delves deep into the psyche

Here is a black Londoner who finds an immense piece of crack cocaine in his house and turns his home into a proficient rock-selling kingdom.

There is a dealer wrongly accused of killing and sexually abusing a young boy who is thrown in jail and tries to win a creative writing contest to get the attention of the governor.

There is also the psychoanalyst who wipes away his professional blunders, goes for a drive blasting music, drinking single malts, smoking joints, and finds out that beneath the surface, his life means almost nothing.

Let’s not forget the little baby growing up in England who keeps muttering words in business German (“Bemess-bemess-bemessungsgrundlage!”) instead of using proper words and flusters a worried mother.

These are the type of stories, all accompanied by a witty sense of satire and the bizarre, yet grossly funny use of imagination, that you will find in “Will Self’s” short story collection entitled ‘Tough Tough Toys for Tough Tough Boys.”

The title itself (which used to be the advertising slogan for Tonka Toys) is an enticing welcoming into the sardonic world of social dysfunction and speculative psychology of Self’s compilation of narratives.

Self is an English author (though his Jewish mother was born in New York) with a brilliant and comic sensibility for clever observation and a masterful acuteness for the language of “modern neurosis”, as praised by the New York Times Book Review. He has been compared by critics to such notable writers as Jonathan Swift, Aldous Huxley, Anthony Burgess, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. and J.G. Ballard.

However, he is most often compared to Franz Kafka, the reputable author of “The Metamorphosis” because of his exceptional ability to dive deep into the psyche of his characters, often entangling the reader as well into his exploratory world of psychological absurdity.

His corkscrewed tales in this collection serve as a mind-tingling platter of nuts and bolts that screw through the profound, imperfect cracks in society and examine the nature of how the modern mind- exposed to the crudity, rawness and lack of sensibleness in modern reality- works to find some sort of moral grounds.

The first story, also one of the best, titled “The Rock of Crack as Big as the Ritz”, lunges into the lives of two black, lower-class Londoner brothers who become drug dealers, one of them falling into the abyss of crack smoke and the other always “morally” refraining himself from using the product. The story ends with an entrancing description of one of the brothers getting high as he never has before on premium crack with some Iranian at the Ritz Hotel .

The title story is good as well and deals with a different perspective. Here, the author dives into the mind of a psychoanalyst who goes for a drive- on the way, smoking joints and encountering a hitchhiker, a Scottish alkie- and contemplates his reality, slowly becoming neurotically overtaken, picturing the racing Tonka trucks from the old commercials colliding at the bottom of the hill. In the end, he becomes a just ghostly figure.

But the best of all is the last tale, considered a novella for its length, entitled “The Nonce Prize”, not only for its funny use of the word “nonce” (in British English, it’s a slang word for a sex offender), but also for its witty and intelligent delineation of a wrongly convicted child abuser trying to win a writing contest for prison writers in order to find salvation. This story actually features one of the brothers from the first story- the one who didn’t do crack, but has now turned to drug use- as the victimized sex offender.

Self’s writing is also a great read because of his extensive grasp of dialogue. He can easily switch from the local London slang epitomized by the black brothers to intellectual, professor-like discussions of literature. Moreover, the stories are interesting because they take place in England or Europe, which provides intuitive information and a pleasant escape from American ways of life.

Self has won the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize for his debut novel “The Quantity Theory of Insanity.” He is also the author of ‘Cock and Bull,” “My Idea of Fun’,’ “Grey Area,” “Great Apes,” and “The Sweet Smell of Psychosis.” This year he published his newest work, a novel called “How the Dead Live,” focusing on the aftermath of death.

If you are tired, like so many of us are, of the everyday, mundane bothers of living and big-blockbuster movies don’t entertain you anymore, zap through this collection of stories that will surely put a sharp smile on your face and invite you to look even deeper into your very own psyche.

November 20, 2001

Reporters

The Miami Hurricane

Student newspaper at the University of Miami


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The Miami Hurricane is the student newspaper of the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Fla. The newspaper is edited and produced by undergraduate students at UM and is published weekly on Thursdays during the regular academic year.