Thursday, September 19, 2013

High Fidelity

1995, 2000 Penguin edition
Nick Hornby
High Fidelity
Original price $12.95, bought used for $2.99
Worn paperback

This book reminded me of Meredith's The Egoist (1879).  As Robert Louis Stevenson tells it, "A young friend of Mr. Meredith's...came to him in agony.  'This is too bad of you,' he cried.  'Willoughby is me!'  'No, my dear fellow,' said the author, 'he is all of us.'"  Unlike "Sir Willoughby," Rob takes pride in his ordinariness, his averageness.  And he is like a lot of men you've met, especially the ones who are obsessed with something, music in his case.  He was born in 1959, and the story begins with his memories of adolescence and youth, particularly his "top five break-ups."  It's now 1994 and his girlfriend Laura just left him for another man.

Rob has a lot of flaws, from insecurity to stalking.  He's not exactly likable, but he's not hatable either.  Unlike in The Egoist, you're not allowed the distance of a third person proto-Wildean narrator.  You're stuck in Rob's head, and he does a lot of complaining, about women, about music, about his parents, about strangers, more about music, a bit about movies, and about the lack of success of the record store he owns.  He does grow up some during the book (unlike Willoughby, who's not much changed by his unfathomable-to-him rejection).

When people say, "The movie is always better," this is one of my examples proving otherwise.  It is a good book, but the movie benefits from tighter, funnier writing and from having the cute-but-not-quite-handsome John Cusack as Rob, not to mention his sister Joan as blunt but loyal Liz and of course Jack Black as music snob Barry.  It could be argued that the story isn't supposed to be that enjoyable, that Rob is miserable and we should be, too, but I'd rather have the movie win me over, rather than feel like it doesn't really matter who Rob ends up with or what he does for a living.

At one point in the novel (maybe in the movie, too, I can't remember since it's been over a year since I last watched), Rob says something about how Ian/Ray (Laura's new boyfriend) wanting to meet and talk things over is very '90s.  Here at mid-decade I'm getting a sense of a subtle shift.  Maybe because I was an adult, the 1990s don't feel as neatly divided into pieces as the earlier decades (including ones before I was born) do.  The 1950s, '60s, '70s, and '80s each seem like every two or three years there were vast changes-- in politics, pop culture, sexuality, etc.  Yes, I was doing different things every year or two of the '90s (including jobs), but I have to think a moment before I remember what happened to other people in those years, unlike the '80s, where I just know.  

I think this book is the first in my collection to show the younger Baby Boomers really distinguishing themselves from their predecessors, as they themselves become "not that young anymore."  It's not that they're all slackers, or apolitical, or what have you.  But there's a certain wistful skepticism, a hopeless hopefulness, that wasn't there before.  As well as ambivalence about both feminism and "the sexual revolution," but also about The Good Old Days of Simpler Times.  We'll see this again with Marian Keyes's Watermelon, coming up shortly, and Fielding's Bridget Jones's Diary in 1996.  (That these three are all English or Irish novelists may or may not be significant.)  That I'm younger than the writers, but now older than the characters, adds a certain poignancy for me.  The mid-'90s don't seem that long ago, except when I think about things like Rob making mix tapes.

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