October 27, 2010

The Naked Truth: Hornby's Book Is Worth Reading

By Sherri Breitigan, Contributing Writer

Nick Hornby’s most recent book, Juliet, Naked (well, it’s new to paperback, and for cheap people like me, that’s quite new enough) illuminates the self-reflection of four main characters: Tucker Crowe, a washed-up American rocker (we’ve seen characters like his with Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler and Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart), his precocious young son Jackson, Annie, a driven Englishwoman embedded in a bleak coastal town, and Duncan, her long-time partner/Tucker Crowe music obsessive.

The storyline is circuitous, with Tucker Crowe’s character and music being the catalyst and common denominator. Duncan’s character sheds light onto the sometimes overeager nature of music fans that leads to late nights on the Internet with message boards discussing a musician’s worth and influence. The rumor mills flourish and these people spout off facts and holier than thou musical declarations while the rest of us plug our ears and focus attention back to an Excel spreadsheet... or a vodka tonic.

Annie, Duncan, and Tucker represent to us what we never want to be: the people who wake up and realize that the past fifteen years have been nothing but the equivalent of a nice time with your roommate or a representation of how you’ve failed as a father, husband, musician, human being. What do you do when you realize that you’ve wasted over a decade, whether it’s on a person, a gloomy town, self-loathing, or addiction? (In the vein of musical influence, I think of certain Death Cab for Cutie lyrics: “bah bahh, this is the sound of settling”). Hornby provides us with no easy answers to this sort of self-reflection, but he crafts the storyline delicately with moments of hilarity. We can relate to Annie’s nervousness about getting back into the sex/dating world after over a decade: a world, according to her friend Ros, filled with threesomes, one-night stands, and general disorder. But also, there are moments of seriousness that come with trying to bring a family back together.

Hornby is easy to read without being easy. His characters are complex and so honest that they force us to admit that yes, we are not perfect either and it’s time to pull off the band-aid, and quickly. He is the author of High Fidelity and About a Boy, along with the screenwriter for An Education, and you can see the same themes in Juliet, Naked. The fear I have of reading a beloved author is that I will be disappointed, or bored, but Hornby proves me wrong yet again. He retains authenticity and reliability without being too predictable, a talent that maybe these characters, and ourselves, could work on.

Juliet, Naked is recommended for:
-Breaking the cycle of vampire novels
-Sunday reading: face it, you don’t really read the Times, do you?
-The uninspired

Not recommended for:
-Serial monogamists
-Wedding anniversary gifts