Trish's Reviews > A Long Way Down

A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby
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Sep 08, 14

Read in June, 2005

I'm a Nick Hornby fan. And it's more than just enjoying his writing; I have a warm and fuzzy affection for him. So even when one of his books fails to utterly delight and transport me (How to Be Good, for example), I'm still on his side.

Michiko Kakutani clearly has no such affection for Hornby. Her review of A Long Way Down is savage. Her chief complaint is that the book contrives to arrive at an implausibly sappy conclusion. Which is odd, because I think the book admirably avoids easy answers or cloying sentimentality.

True, it begins with a colossal coincidence: Four people climb to the top of the same building with the thought of a suicidal plummet. Of course, once Maureen taps Martin on the shoulder, and once they see teen-age Jess taking a run for the parapet, and once JJ arrives with pizza, they can't really jump to their deaths, can they? Instead they munch a few slices and decide to humor Jess by helping her track down her "ex-boyfriend," Chas, who she claims not to have been stalking, unless endless phone calls and unexpected visits to his workplace constitute stalking.

I didn't find it difficult to roll with the premise, in part because the novel is told in rotating first person, first Martin, then Maureen, then Jess, then JJ. As you step into each person's shoes, it's not too difficult to understand why they might mull ending it all, and why a random collision with a stranger might give each one pause.

Kakutani accuses Hornby of coralling the characters into a touchy-feely support group, but that's exactly what they aren't. None of them have much in common beyond their suicidal thoughts, and even those are different shades of blue. Jess is just mad, all impulse and ignorance and id. Martin has royally fucked up, an ill-fated fling with a coke-snorting 15-year-old landing him in the clink and out of his family and job. Maureen is sadled with a disabled son and a life devoid of life. And JJ may claim to be dying of "CCR," but his real problem is an addiction to rock 'n' roll and his inability to score a fix now that his band has dissolved.

There aren't easy answers. Jess's missing sister isn't going to reappear. Jess won't be hit with a sudden wave of sanity. Maureen's son isn't going to recover (or die). Martin can't undo the damage he's done, or even quickly become the type of person who won't cock up his life so badly. And JJ isn't about to discover a new purpose in life, like caring for Maureen's vegetable son or teaching underprivileged kids to play the guitar. There's no redemptive power of love on display. And the four members of the ad hoc support group never particularly like one another.

So Michiko and I will just have to be at opposite ends of the spectrum on this one.

How do people, like, not curse? How is it possible? There are these gaps in speech where you just have to put a "fuck." I'll tell you who the most admirable people in the world are: newscasters. If that was me, I'd be like, "And the motherfuckers flew the fucking plane right into the Twin Towers." How could you not, if you're a human being? Maybe they're not so admirable. Maybe they're robot zombies.
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Quotes Trish Liked

Nick Hornby
“How do people, like, not curse? How is it possible? There are these gaps in speech where you just have to put a "fuck." I'll tell you who the most admirable people in the world are: newscasters. If that was me, I'd be like, "And the motherfuckers flew the fucking plane right into the Twin Towers." How could you not, if you're a human being? Maybe they're not so admirable. Maybe they're robot zombies.”
Nick Hornby, A Long Way Down


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