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Review: High Fidelity, by Nick Hornby

Have you seen the movie? If you've seen the movie, then I won't be spoiling anything for you.

Synopsis:

Rob Fleming is a thirty-something record-store owner suffering from a lack of self-esteem and motivation. No, really, he's insecure. Really, really, really insecure. He and his girlfriend break up, then get back together again. We get to read his internal monologue through the process. Hilarity ensues.

Really, that's it.

The Good:

The writing is engaging and witty, and Hornby makes some interesting observations about life. Parents, work, career goals, sex--lots of sex--it all comes under Rob's scrutiny. Only scrutiny's probably too strong a word, because like most of us, Rob isn't all that deep. He doesn't comprehend these things so much as bitch about them, moaning and whining his way through his problems, not solving them so much as enduring until they resolve themselves. Occasionally Rob strikes upon something poignant, but mostly he's bitter, wry, and laughable. Sometimes you laugh with Rob. Sometimes you laugh at Rob. It doesn't really matter.

He's average, we can relate to him, but damn! he's a looser! Think of Rob as a subtle warning sign: "Dead End, Do Not Enter." If there was meant to be any lesson in this book, that's got to be it, and it's truly well-delivered. Don't let me comments about Rob fool you: Hornby knows the score. Even if Rob's too dim and jaded to grasp the Big Picture behind his bitching, Hornby isn't; he subtly expresses his point, and--"Make a U-Turn!"--we get the message.

The Bad:

You know how in the movie Rob was this cute lovable fellow who eventually makes good and comes to new realizations and makes changes and resolutions and is, in short, as perfect a John Cusack character as you could imagine? Yes, well, that's not really the Rob in the book. The Rob in the book is selfish and narcissistic and painfully insecure. There were times in the book where I really wished I could reach in, grab him, and give him a good shake and screaming-at. Yet, I know it would have done no good, even if I could have somehow done it, because Rob himself will tell you that he knows better... in a myriad of situations, a swirl of infantile worries and petty moments, he admits that he knows better; the problem is, Rob's a guy who can not get over his hang-ups and insecurities. It's funny, yes, and we can all relate, yes, but OMG it gets annoying.

Also, you know that wonderful moment in the movie when John Cusack--that is, Rob-played-by-Cusack--offers to produce a tape for that garage band, and throws a premiere party for them, etc? It's a big moment, because Rob has Taken A Step, has realized that He Can Do What He Wants, has Moved Forward. And, coincidently, has allowed him to Move On With Laura? Well, there is no such moment in the book. In the book, it's all Laura and nothing but Laura: it's Laura who moves him forward, Laura who sets up his Moment of Moving Forward, Laura who, in fact, moves him. Rob is completely passive, and Laura is the dynamic moving force. Whatever balance is established between them in the movie, it is utterly lacking in the book: Rob is weak, dead in the water, hopelessly co-dependent, incapable of any action.

On the plus side, Laura is an awesome character: real, warm, dynamic, believable.

Rob, by the end of the book, he's so demonstrably hopeless, you just want to hurt him.


In Conclusion:

The book's a good read, and the characters are all engaging. Don't expect an inspiring, uplifting love story, though. That's reserved for John Cusack movies. Nick Hornby, he's delivering a far bleaker experience.

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