Imagine the mass of the glove Stalin swiped across your face; imagine the mass of it.

Bad writing can make you disagree with sentiments you know to be true. For the time spent reading that sentence, I’m convinced the Soviet Holocaust was not really such a big deal. It’s an odd state of mind but one I can reenter whenever those sixteen words are before me.

The sentence is from Koba the Dread: Laughter and the Twenty Million, a brief historical work in which Amis squared his shoulders and looked the Soviet disaster straight in the kneecaps. The book reveals that Kingsley Amis, Martin’s father, was a Communist Party member until 1956. I find that incredible. It means Lucky Jim (published in 1954) was written by a Communist, which means that the funniest person in the world was a Communist. Then Khruschev had to go spill the beans and Amis senior abruptly gave up Communism; he also gave up being funny, but more gradually and without conscious intention.

Another surprise: Christopher Hitchens was a Trotskyite. I knew he was left, but I assumed that meant New Left. In America nobody looked toward the Russian Revolution for much of anything after the Port Huron Statement. But in ’70s London a bright young person, or at least Christopher Hitchens, could still pick a favorite Bolshevik and take him seriously.

Amis’s trick of turning the reader against beliefs the reader holds is known as the Friedman Effect in honor of Thomas L. Friedman. The effect springs into action when a writer not only does a bad job technically but also gives the impression that a belief is especially beholden to him or her for subscribing to it.

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