Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle About Nick Hornby

By Raoul Hernandez

JUNE 1, 1998:  It was a scene right out of High Fidelity. Barreling down Guadalupe with a fierce, determined look on her face, the young woman was several long strides ahead of her boyfriend, who was struggling to keep up and look as serious as his single-minded mate. She's a blur past the storefront window of Technophilia, a Drag-bound CD treasure chest, and so is the boyfriend, who passes by just as fast. Only his head turns as he whips by. A beat ticks off, and suddenly he's back peering through the window, eyes big. He reaches for the door. And then the girl is upon him, pissed. You can't hear her, but you can read her lips clear as a day: We don't have time to look at CDs!!!!!!

Such was the hilariously dead-on High Fidelity, the first "novel" and second book from Nick Hornby, who will be at Book People this Sunday, May 31, 3pm. His first book, Fever Pitch, chronicled Hornby's boyhood obsession with North London's Arsenal football team, while 1995's High Fidelity was a send up of a well-known Austin phenomenon - boys and their music - and should probably be required reading for local couples with a problem music freak in the family. Hornby's latest "novel" (the jacket copy is very specific about this), About a Boy (Riverhead, $22.95 hard), once again aims its tales of romantic folly at the Technophilia toy boy set, but plays a subtler tune than High Fidelity, in which the protagonist owns a record store and makes desert island "Top Five" lists about things such as "most memorable split-ups."

As the title implies, About a Boy invokes Kurt Cobain to chart part of its narrative course, using the final part of the musician's unfortunate life as a device to drive the story to its conclusion. Will Freeman is a 36-year-old layabout and "serial nice guy," who inhabits a "dreamy alternative reality" thanks to the fat royalty checks from his father's "White Christmas"-type holiday staple, "Santa's Super Sleigh." Horny and bored, Freeman starts pretending he's a single father to seduce what he believes to be a great, untapped source of sex: single mothers.

Instead, he meets the geeky, Joni Mitchell-loving product of a broken home, Marcus, 12, who's looking for a father figure to save his suicidal hippie mother, Fiona. Cor, not only can he marry me mum, he can teach me about this Kirk O'Bane fella, thinks Marcus, and from that moment on Will is trapped in what he's most afraid of: real life.

Cheeky as it often is, About a Boy makes no overtures in hiding its somewhat pat inverse relationship between Will and Marcus; the former is a man being forced to grow up, while the latter is a boy who's grown up too quickly by witnessing his mother's suicide attempt. At a slim 306 pages, more novella than novel, About a Boy could probably be blown through in less time than it takes to listen to the entire Nirvana catalogue, and while it's not Nevermind to High Fidelity's first novel Bleach splash, it's a good Incesticide-like stopgap until novel number three comes up In Utero. - Raoul Hernandez


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