It’s funny, writing a review of this book, because in many ways, I’m Duncan, the obsessed fan who puts the book’s plot into motion. Nick Hornby is something of a hero of mine. I read a lot as a kid, but sort of got away from it as I got older, as it seems so many people do these days. But then I read ‘High Fidelity’ and it’s like something lit up inside me. I immediately devoured everything I could by Hornby (which, at the time, wasn’t much—‘About a Boy’ and ‘Fever Pitch’), and then moved onto authors that Hornby seemed to admire, most notably Dave Eggers (whose ‘A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius’ further changed me). When I finally met Mr. Hornby, years later, I was utterly speechless. I wanted to explain—eloquently, of course—the ways in which he’d changed my life. By reading more, writing more, thinking more…I became a more well-rounded person because of him. But how do you fit that into 30 seconds of a book signing? And do you even want to? It’s never good to meet your heroes—either they end up disappointing you, or you end up disappointing them. But that knowledge doesn’t put to rest the urge to tell them everything they mean to you.
So I’m well-aware that the character of Duncan is a critique of Hornby’s own basest impulses—as an avid music-lover, he’s no doubt been in the position of the crazed fan more than once in his day--but I’m also keenly aware that it is a critique of people like me as well—the once great fans of Hornby who now come onto the internet to poke holes in their hero’s continued quest to make a living. It’s a little turnabout as fair play—how can you criticize this book without sounding like the snivel-y, whining fanboy who is the book’s biggest joke?
But I really don’t have any great criticisms of this book. It’s been said that Nick Hornby is ‘chick-lit for men.’ And I think there is some truth to that. He’s certainly not Salman Rushdie or Upton Sinclair, writing about controversial topics aimed to bring about greater good for society. He’s simply a perceptive guy who has a talent for picking up on the little quirks that make life and pop-culture so interesting. And that’s all I really want from his books—I like smiling in recognition at my own quirks and flaws, and those of the world around me. Hornby’s world—Atlantic Ocean dividing them aside—is the world I inhabit. And I appreciate being surrounded by like-minded people, even if it’s only on a page.
The greatest of these little truths that Hornby revealed in this book was the synthesis of art, and musical art in particular. I once wrote an essay for myself about an ex-girlfriend I had in college. Our relationship was a mess through and through—we were constantly breaking up and getting back together, and cheating on each other and breaking up again…it was a typical college relationship, in other words. And I remember, one summer day, when we were broken up, I was listening to a song that made me think of her. It was a playfully wistful song about longing for a lost love called ‘Maybe in an Alternate Dimension’ by a band called Ozma. And as I listened to this song and sang along, picturing my (ex) girlfriend and I being together again, I smiled. Not because I wanted her back, but because I recognized, even then, the ridiculousness of singing a song of wistful longing for that particular girl. She wasn’t the one. I knew that. She wasn’t worthy of songs of wistful longing. She was just the girl that I was dating then, and that’s all she’d ever be. I had even tried to write a song for her when I still played with my band, but they all came out wrong—angry, resentful. She wasn’t the type of girl who you wrote love songs about.
So that made me think of the original subject of the song, the one who had inspired the singer of Ozma to write the song in the first place. Was she so special? Did she deserve to have a wistful love song written about her, by anyone? Maybe…but I’m willing to bet it wasn’t all peaches and sunshine. Because it never is. Songs—love songs, songs of wistful longing, breakup songs—they all exist in a vacuum. They’re almost never about a real person so much as an idealized version of a real person, or an idealized version of a fucked up relationship. Maybe the singer is singing about how much he loves the girl, and where did he go wrong and all that, but odds are he knew exactly where he went wrong—by sleeping with a groupie in the back of a tour bus. But nobody wants to sing along to that.
And that’s what Tucker Crowe represents in ‘Juliet, Naked.’ He’s an artist who becomes self-aware enough to realize what a fraud he is. He sees hundreds of people singing along to songs he wrote about a girl he really didn’t even like all that much, and it’s too much for him. I don’t know that any rock star would really feel that way, but it’s certainly how we’d like to see them, and that’s why Nick Hornby is so great. He just gets it. He gets me, even though we’ve only had one awkward, stilted 30 second conversation. And you could make the argument that maybe this book tied together a little too nicely, and you could maybe nitpick that some of the characters were thinly sketched. But I don’t care. I enjoyed the heck out of it. So you can say what you want about this book, or Nick Hornby as an author, but I love his books, and this was his best in a while. He just gets it. He really does.