Books: Independent choice

American satire by Nick Kimberley

To judge from the space the Independent devoted to Tina Brown's departure from the New Yorker, we have an obsessive interest in New York media life. Most of us, I imagine, know little and care less about who runs what in Manhattan, although we do like stories that show our American cousins as backbiting lamebrains.

Step forward, Jay McInerney, always happy to cater for just such base tastes. After a brief sortie out of town in his last novel, McInerney is back on the island with Model Behaviour (Bloomsbury, pounds 14.99). We meet not one NY resident who isn't self-centred, neurotic, and unaware of life's larger pains. Actually, I lie, but the characters who don't fit that description are even less likeable than the rest.

McInerney's narrator has the agreeable habit of slipping from first, to second, to third person to talk about himself. Connor McKnight, showbiz newshound for Cioabella!, lives with a beautiful model whose love he doesn't deserve. So she leaves him. Or so he suspects. Meanwhile he has to secure an interview with a handsome dork who is the latest movie star we (I, you, he) all want to punch in the mouth. McInerney has spotted that today, news is only news if it's news about those in the news. This shallowness is his home turf, and though his targets are easy, and his sniping vindictive, he still makes us laugh. There's also a falling-out-of-love story here, which might be more touching if we weren't convinced that these saps don't have feelings, only echoes of feelings.

The cover of Ruth L Ozeki's My Year of Meat (Picador, pounds 9.99) all but amounts to misrepresentation. This is not a jolly jape in which a Japanese- American woman looks quizzically at American beef, but a semi-documentary savaging of modern farming methods. Here, too, narratives interwine: Jane Takagi-Little is making a TV series promoting US beef to Japanese housewives, one of whom is married to Jane's boss, a meat-eating sadist.

Bit by bit, the women find common ground in their struggles with men and meat. Ozeki describes both women's lives but seems most at home with Jane, no doubt because, like her, she's a Japanese-American "documentarian" (her word) who once worked on a TV series promoting US beef to Japanese housewives. Like much fiction that sets out to educate, Ozeki's novel is didactic and occasionally hectoring. Her Japanese TV executive is a grotesque caricature, even if he really exists. Yet My Year of Meat is also rather frightening; and in case we don't believe her, Ozeki provides a bibliography.

To complete this week's savaging of things American, Richard Dooling (a "practising attorney") takes on the legal system in Brainstorm (Secker, pounds 9.99). Sensibly, he resists the temptation to immerse us in head-to-head courtroom drama. The year is 2002, justice is all but computerised, and hate-crimes have generated extra strata of legal complexity. Prove that a crime is motivated by hate directed at the disadvantaged, rather than simply out of rage, jealousy or greed, and the sentence doubles. All very plausible, but then the OJ Simpson and Louise Woodward trials convinced us that anything is possible in US law. Indeed, unless you know that system intimately, it may prove difficult to discern what is fact and what is fiction here. That's a definite strength in what, despite a tendency to over-elaborate, is a pleasingly sceptical satire.

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