100 Books in a Year: A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby
It might just be the place I'm in these days, or the season with all of the holiday bullshit, or my predisposition to depression, but this book did not make me laugh.ever.once.
That is not to say I didn't love it. I have to be honest, I've not read any Hornby since High Fidelity. Somehow he fell off my radar, and if it weren't for a delayed flight in Chicago a week ago he might not have found his back on, but low and behold there in the window right across from the gate that would own my ass for the next 5 hours, Hornby.
A Long Way Down is a book about 4 almost suicides that probably never really would have been and one definite suicide that we know virtually nothing about. Again, taking my above mentioned predispositions to heart, I have to say this book rang about as sadly, pathetically, and shockingly true as anything else I've ever read on the subject. There is no romance here. I don't just mean that Hornby takes all the mystery and romance out of the act itself, but he robs the survival of any melodramatic, hopeful romance too. There are no kittens running through the fields while resurrected families picnic in the foreground when this book is over -- but I like Hornby's final image far better than I would have liked that.
Every single one of the characters in this book is fucked in the way that people you know are fucked, or that you are yourself. That's not to say they don't have issues with which you may not have dealt, but you could paste a host of your own over theirs and get the same psychological result -- and that's what's scary. At one point, a lying, cheating, suck of a husband wrecks his own car because it's "easier than actually telling the truth. That look you get, the look which lets you see right through the eyes and down into the place where she keeps and the hurt and the rage and the loathing...who wouldn't go that extra yard to avoid it." And who reads that and can't think of all the little things they do in the course of the day that are the equivalent of this guy's car wreck? We all do it. Some just do it larger than others. The book is full of scenes you've lived between people you know. It vacillates between fatalistic, hopeful, pathetic, and eventually just being. I did not laugh once, and I will be honest, I cried more than once. It wasn't a sad cry though, or not wholly. It was the kind of cry you have when even knowing something really bad is okay if you aren't the only one.
There are moments of community among the mismatched foursome that didn't. They bond speciously over music, the beach, swearing. The brevity of these exchanges says more about humans and community and want than any number of psychological tomes out there. It works because Hornby gives us these truths and these experiences of these people and flat out refuses to let us feel sorry for them -- ever. You relate because you can't stand to feel sorry for them anymore than you can stand the self pity you briefly allow yourself driving home alone at the end of the day. It's just too...ick, And they would punch you in the throat, everyone single one of them, if you offered them your sympathy anyway. So they all escape caricature, and we respect them even if we don't like them; We want them to be okay even though we know they did it to themselves.
The characters' message over and over again in the book is that people who are sad don't fit in. As a culture, we don't know what to do with them, and yet, it demonstrates clearly that we're all sad most of the time -- some of us climb to the top of Topper Tower and some of us don't -- but it's clear in A Long Way Down that the climbing or not may be the only difference among us.
This book is part of the Cannonball Read Series. You read more of Jack's reviews here.