Literary Greats Always Cheat at Golf

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

A Long Way Down

Last night while trying, and failing to sleep I reread part of A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby. I really really love this book. It's no About a Boy which is one of the greatest books I've ever read (Seriously, if you haven't read it by now, you really must. Even if you've seen the movie, because the book is so much better than that. It breaks my heart. The movie doesn't even make sense. How can you call it About a Boy, even? The whole point of the title is the reference to Nirvana and "About a Girl" and Kurt Cobain is both a backdrop and an essential theme of the book, so it's just dumb if you change that reference to hip hop. I don't even give two shits about Nirvana, and I care, I can't imagine how irritating that must be to actual fans. Besides, that book really warms the old cockles, because I see a lot of myself in Marcus, the dorky, manipulative, weird kid protagonist.)

Anyway, without giving things away, the delight of A Long Way Down is the way it plays with continual subversion of your expectation. In high school (or maybe it was more recently, I don't know) Dan said that the most significant way that real life differs from fiction is that real life contains dominant themes and plot points that are just dropped left and right. One year something is the most important factor in your life, the next year you don't even remember liking it. Funny, poignant, agonizing events happen to you, and they foreshadow nothing.

You obsess and plot to win the love of the oject of your affections for years, and this love neither prevails nor forces you to jump in front of a train. You just fall out of it, and fall out of touch with it. Sure, later you can go back and pick out some dominant threads in your life, but if you go back to any sort of real time records (the pictures, the journals, the letters, the posters) you will be looking at someone you don't remember being. You will be looking at something that doesn't match the story of yourself that you've been telling yourself.

That's what I like best about A Long Way Down, it builds things up and makes them seem important, like maybe they will be the big plot of the book and then three pages later, the tension has been dealt with and dismissed. It gives the drama of life a certain flatness a weary rush and trudge, which fits a book about four suicidally depressed people very well. But it still manges to be funny.

Finally, a word on a frequent critique people seem to have on Hornby: "Oh, he writes so well for men, but he doesn't understand women." I think that the women who say this have a very narrow view of what it means to be a woman and to think like a woman, because I find Hornby's take on the female mind to be unnervingly similar to the way I work, and I wouldn't say I'm a particularly masculine woman.

Hornby writes about fucked up people, people who sabotage themselves and their own happiness, and who don't particularly understand why they do it to themselves. I think when women say that Hornby can't write about them, what they mean is that they're happy someone is out there saying that guys are depressive, manipulative, crazy assholes, but that they don't want to admit that Hornby has figured them out too.


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