Monday, July 25, 2005

She Said: Not A Long Way Down Necessarily, But Certainly A Step

by Annie

This book would have irritated me less had it not been written by Nick Hornby, which I suppose is akin to saying, “I’d like water more if it weren’t so wet.” It is what it is. Great Mandy Moore--how to deal?

The thing is, I can’t outright say “it’s bad” or “I didn’t like it,” would that I could be more two-dimensional, like Janice Dickinson. And it’s nothing to do with my long-standing allegiance to this particular author. There’s Hornby in here to be sure, but I can’t help thinking the real novel is another draft or two away.

Waiting for a new Nick Hornby novel is worse than waiting for your period after senior prom. You start getting a little antsy as if something’s...missing, only you’re not quite sure what. Before you know it you’re a seven-week-long F-you to Strunk & White. But then there are hints: you’re a raving bitch; you’re crying at that Michelin commercial again; all that’s left of your graduation wad is the receipt for $675 worth of smores ingredients. And the big payoff? YOUR STINKING PERIOD.

Fast forward seventeen years: You live your life, read books, see Friends, watch TV--okay okay maybe that’s the same as “see friends,” but my point is, you live. No matter how sad & empty it might seem compared to your glamorous “friends’” life – it’s living, as some of us know it.

You watch a Movies That Rock marathon on VH1 and see that High Fidelity is next. In a moment of weakness you consider turning the TV off but adulthood and its therapy-affording income enable you to breathe through the anger and simply switch to UPN.

By the third commercial break you’ve forgotten what sent you to Veronica Mars in the first place and you switch back to VH1 hoping to validate your claims of telepathic powers. But there is no Hal Sparks channeling Chewbacca, only Lisa Bonet. Channeling Peter Frampton. On the Lounge Ax stage.

You suddenly realize she is to blame for the demise of the greatest club ever, not some yuppie neighbor because only a goddam yuppie neighbor would go to Lounge Ax to see Lisa Bonet. What’s that? It’s not Lisa Bonet per se but rather a character she’s been hired to play? A character that--if I remember correctly--was described in High Fidelity as a “pre-L.A. Law Susan Dey?” And that Abra Moore’s schedule was just too FULL to accommodate shooting (I’m sorry but how perfect would she have been? SO perfect.) Is it possible that moviespeak is so removed from literalese that “pre-L.A. Law Susan Dey” translates to “post-Angel Heart Cosby?”

Had the movie version of High Fidelity not been based on a novel held so utterly near to my dark, dark heart, I would’ve commented on how unfairly smokin’ Lisa Bonet is and moved on. But this was the book--the book--that I wanted to marry. The main character anyway.

Sure, the fact that he was fictional might’ve clued me in to something as well as the fact that he was basically me with a penis. But in all honesty I could only afford one therapy session so we’ll leave that to another day.

As I read it for the first time I knew they’d bring it to the big screen someday. And I’ll admit--I unofficially cast John Cusack in the lead way back then in 1995. Damn foresight. They did cast him all right and not only did they bastardize the whole damn thing but he bastardized my future betrothed. I mean, I read the book and fell in love. John Cusack read the book and thought, “This guy’s a dick!” But that’s the great thing about books – they’re not read the same way by everyone (don’t even get me started on mine and my mother’s takes on Holden Caulfield. Ma, why you gotta hate all my future husbands?).

Hornby’s subsequent outings didn’t disappoint. Recognizing the unlikelihood that one would speak to me as profoundly as High Fidelity the novel, I was in fact pleasantly surprised by About a Boy and How To Be Good. Like Mark Burnett shows, I expected to like them but never to love them. So you can see why I’d be itching for my next fix. My name is Annie and I love Nick Hornby novels.

I fell hard for A Long Way Down based on the chapters that had been published in various magazines and anthologies prior to its release. I immediately loved the premise--four disparate characters meet on top of a building from which they all intend to jump but instead band together and live happily ever after (wah wah wah, I spoil nothing) despite the fact that every blurb describes how they “meet cute,” an expression that conjures nothing but Nora Ephron-isms and is therefore hated. Unfortunately, those words are dead on. The good news is you don’t have to worry about Nora Ephron penning the inevitable script--Hornby’s novel already reads like a treatment.

There are too many main characters vying for his attention that the result is a series of sketches with hints of dimension but not quite enough. Each chapter is narrated from the point of view of a different character:

Jess: Annoyingly abrasive ill-mannered teen, inconsistently written to ensure inclusion of all one-liners. Says "I won’t put on any airs or graces" then nineteen pages later doesn’t know that the phrase "we are gathered here today" is something you might hear in church. But the little scalawag gives US what for when this is pointed out and she spends the next six pages saying, “What’s so fucking funny?” It’s a laugh riot on par with your uncle’s Joe Pesci imitation. In the movie she’ll be played by Taryn Manning, who will get rave reviews in spite of an uneven script.

Maureen: In the hands of, I don’t know, Anita Shreve, this book would have been about Maureen and Maureen alone. The only character you actually have sympathy for. You know how suicidal people are supposed to have no emotion because they’re just too numb to feel or care about anything? I believed her desperation because anyone but the truly apathetic would have killed the other three by Chapter 6. She’ll be played by Patricia Clarkson because she should be in every movie ever.

Martin: Hornby could have successfully made him the main character and the others merely line-feeders. Media job allows room for all the snazzy pop-culture references Hornby can fit. I’m picturing a young William Hurt here but I think that’s because of his Broadcast News thing. I’m going on a limb for John C. McGinley.

JJ: Hornby’s security blanket worn thin. The hipster musician guy a.k.a. reason to spout band names for continued indie cred. And not much effort was even put into that: “maybe nineteen people in the world” know The Replacements’ "Skyway"? Nick, Nick, Nick...For this they’ll cast someone utterly inappropriate.

Despite all the heretofore bitching, Hornby’s voice is invited into my world anytime because I know he’ll leave me at least one neatly wrapped gift.

Referencing a point of contention with her mother, Jess has the greatest line of the book: “When I’m angry with her, I say “fuck” a lot, and when she’s angry with me, she says “earrings” a lot.” And then, with only seven pages to go, he introduces my new favorite character--Jerry Lee Pavement. Who will be played by my future husband.

Read what He said.

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Annie is a guest blogger for No Milk Please

Recommended books by Nick Hornby:

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