I first read a Nick Hornby book in high school. As a sixteen-year-old girl living in the suburbs of a midsized southern city in the US, I could hardly be considered the target audience for Hornby's humorous sadsack variety of "dick lit." But I savored every word of High Fidelity. Perhaps it was because I was a sixteen-year-old girl that I identified so readily with such a melodramatic, romantic protagonist. I also really, really like lists.
Since then I have read all of Hornby's works, both fiction and non-fiction. As a whole, I find I enjoy his non-fiction more. The fiction tends to get bogged down in the characters' own sullenness and petty natures. Whereas when Hornby is writing in his own voice, he is generally more humorous, optimistic and warm, even when writing about difficult topics such as his son's autism.
As for his fiction, I loved both High Fidelity and About a Boy, enjoyed Slam!, and pretty much just wanted to shake all the characters in A Long Way Down until they got their heads out of their own asses. How to be Good was so wretched I prefer to forget I even read it. I suppose I continue to read and get excited about his books because I know that when he is on his game, he does realistic comedic novels better than almost anyone else out there. I can't help but hope for another About a Boy.
I picked up his newest work, Juliet, Naked, with some justifiable trepidation. It is a story of three pretty miserable people: Tucker Crowe, a once semi-famous musician who walked out on his career while it was at its peak with no explanation, and now finds himself with no career or ambition and half a dozen failed marriages and half-forgotten children; Duncan, a college professor who has been obsessed with Tucker Crowe and his music for nearly twenty years; and Annie, Duncan's longtime girlfriend who is beginning to wonder if she has wasted her whole life on a man she has little interest in, a career that bores her, and living in a town that is dying a slow death.
After a previously unreleased demo of Tucker's greatest album, "Juliet", finds its way to Duncan and Annie's doorstep, the cracks in their relationship become too clear to ignore any longer. Around this same time, Tucker begins communicating with Annie via e-mail after she posts a scathing (and in Tucker's mind, deservedly so) review of the new album now known as "Juliet, Naked" on the Tucker Crowe fanpage. From this point forward, the lines between the characters begin to shift, diverging and crossing where previously they had not done so.
It took me a couple of days to decide whether I liked this story or these characters. In a lot of ways I'm still not sure. Tucker's only true redeeming quality is his relationship with his six-year-old son, Jackson, the only one of his children he has not, nor will ever, abandon. I finished the book yesterday, and I barely remember Duncan. Annie, though, is the biggest puzzle to me. She yearns for a child, for a family, for something to prove that her life has not been a waste, but she seems to do little to change her situation. Well, I guess thinking back on it, that is not true. She makes some major changes to her life, and takes a few pretty substantial risks. The changes she makes just don't seem to move her all that far in any direction. None of the characters or plot lines are resolved by the end of the novel. This is both comfortingly realistic and totally frustrating. Hornby is one of those authors who likes to end with an ellipsis rather than a period. I like not knowing how it will all end up. There is something too artificial about having everything resolved and perfectly tied up in a little bow, but at the same time, after 400+ pages I want to feel as though I got somewhere, and with Juliet, Naked? I don't think I did.