Mark Stevens's Reviews > The Pregnant Widow

The Pregnant Widow by Martin Amis
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's review
Dec 11, 2010

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Read from November 14 to December 09, 2010

First, I “read” this on audio CD and the performance by Steven Pacey is easily the best I’ve heard—and I’ve been listening to books on audio CD for many years. Pacey’s reading is light, energetic, breezy and engaging. His ability to switch between Keith Nearing’s horny male point of view and the voices of the many women in this story—Lily, Scheherazade and Gloria—was incredible. Listening to Pacey will make you smile.
Second, the first big long start of this book takes a long time to get revved up. Okay, well, Keith Nearing is plenty revved up throughout the book, at least sexually, but not much happens. We’re in Italy. It’s 1970. The women are young and beautiful and frequently topless. There’s sun, swimming and everything that goes with youth and skin. There’s a fair amount in “The Pregnant Widow” about sex—but it’s more suggestive than detailed. Mostly, it’s Keith’s yearning.
Third, “The Pregnant Widow” is both fairly tedious at the outset and increasingly touching toward the end. The last few chapters redeemed the whole book for me and I was glad I stuck with it, but it’s hard to recommend to others (again, unless you have Pacey as your narrator). Even then, it’s a bit of slog.
The premise is the switch in eras. From youth to old age, from innocence to cynicism, from trust to disbelief. “Under the old regime, love preceded sex; it wasn’t that way ‘round any more.” And, later, a change in how cultures once seen as innocent and exotic are now viewed suspiciously, post 9/11.
“The Pregnant Widow” spends most of its time with Keith in a state of pure self-absorption—to the point where he would contemplate drugging his girlfriend in order to meet up with his lust-object, Scheherazade.
Throughout the book, Keith is reading many classic English novels where physical relationships are left off the page though Keith tries to decode literary euphemisms for what’s being implied. “The Pregnant Widow” is an updated version of nearly the same trick. There are plenty of raunchy words throughout and the inside of Keith’s mind takes the term “one track” to new definitions of intensity, but the coupling is mostly implied or referenced. Later, much later in life, Keith is forced to recalibrate his thoughts and his life’s arc “like a Rubik’s cube.” The summer of 1970 fueled Keith’s imagination for a lifetime. The fuel was valuable, but it doesn’t alter the inevitable. “We live half our lives in shock, he thought. And it’s the second half. A death comes; and the brain makes chemicals to get us past it. They numb you, and the numbness is an identifiable kind of calm: a false one. All it can do, numbness, is postpone.”
I’m not sure I would have felt the weight the ending of “The Pregnant Widow” if Amis had made the opening scenes of self-absorption any shorter. Maybe. I’d recommend it—with cautions. Better yet, get the audio CD and go for a long, long drive.

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