How to be Good -- Nick Hornby
Since Nick Hornby has a new novel coming out soon, I figured that I should finally get around to reading his last one.
It's different from the other novels. Those were both about guys that were in their early thirties that still needed to grow up, pretty light and full of fun little pop-cultural references. This is a Serious Novel. Also, it's from the perspective of a woman (a woman, who, although she has her problems, is a grown-up, both in age and maturity level).
Katie is married to the Angriest Man in Holloway. (He really is--and he has a newspaper column to prove it). She has two young kids, is a doctor, donates money to the right causes when she can. She is a Good Person. She's also having an affair, which, in itself, says a fair amount about her marriage.
Oddly enough, it isn't the affair that makes everything go crazy. It's when her husband, David, goes to a weird healer named DJ GoodNews and experiences a spiritual conversion. As he puts it:
"We buy films for our children that they've already seen at the cinema and never watch again..." There ensues a long list of similar crimes, all of which sound petty and, in any other household, completely legal, but which suddenly seem, with David's spin on them, selfish and despicable. I drift off for a while.
"I'm a liberal's worst nightmare," David says at the end of his litany, with a smile that could be described, were one feeling uncharitable or paranoid, as malicious.
"What does that mean?"
"I think everything you think. But I'm going to walk it like I talk it."
"Walking it like he talks it" involves inviting the healer to live with the family, getting other families on their street to take in homeless teenagers, giving away his kids' toys, and so forth. Katie admits (not to David, but to the reader):
I am terrified of the embarrassment, of which there will be lorryloads. I can hear the diesel engines rumbling toward us even as we speak.
It is, as I said, a Serious Novel. But it is also a Good Book (I have reservations about the last 30 pages or so, but other than that, yes, it is a Good Book). There were moments that made me laugh, mostly involving Katie's changing feelings about her daughter:
Molly wanted to go with him, but I wouldn't let her--not, if I am honest, because I thought she was in any danger, but because she is nauseating enough at the moment as it is. I was worried that if I had to watch her feeding the poor like an eight-year-old Dickensian charity lady I would begin to hate her too much to provide proper maternal care.
But even moments like that weren't just funny, they were bitter. It's a bitter book. No joy. But honest and real. I'm glad I read it, but I won't be compulsively re-reading it. I'll save High Fidelity for that.