I'm always happy when a new Nick Hornby book comes out. I'm not really sure why, since he's not that great of a writer, and his books always seem to just miss the mark of what they were intending to say or do. But for some reason I enjoy his writing, and most of all I always come away with the feeling that his heart is in the right place, and he's a right-on guy. So that's saying a lot, cause I sure can't say the same for Don DeLillo.
A Long Way Down gathers four apparently disconnected souls on a London rooftop on New Year's Eve, all with the intention of committing suicide. Through their individual ineptitudes and lousy communication skills, they all somehow manage to stave off the event and give themselves some time as a group to mull it all over. The book is written from four different first-person perspectives: Maureen, the fifty-something single mother of a severely disabled teenage son; Jess, the wild teenage girl with a runaway mouth; JJ, the American rock dude whose band and girl have both abandoned him; and Martin, the Regis-like talk show host who has ruined his career, his image, and his marriage by sleeping with a fifteen-year-old girl.
At first, only Martin and Maureen appear to have any real grounds for committing the deed, but as we are led through each character's personal history and emotional landscape, we begin to feel the pain and despair that each of them carry around. Over the course of the next few months, these four ridiculously mismatched people form a sort of dysfunctional support group, where they fight more than bond, yell more than talk, and suffer more than heal. But somehow, even the sensation of being connected to another human can be enough to bring you down from the ledge, if only for the time being.
Hornby writes in a light, modern tone that would almost seem trashy if it weren't so compelling and heartfelt. The narrative structure is unique, giving each character a chance to tell a piece of the story in order to create a multi-faceted whole, rather than just a wanky post-modern exercise in confusing the reader. And he manages to tie in some current events, namely 9-11, without it seeming random or gratuitous. Most of all, he is always on the lookout for the real moment, the honest connection, and the cliché-free epiphany. In A Long Way Down, as in real life, these qualities are what keep us all from jumping.
A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby
352 pages. Paperback.