Thursday, January 6, 2011
SLAM: Nick Hornby
I like Nick Hornby. I picked up About A Boy years ago at the airport and I was thoroughly entertained. It was a novel that even translated well to cinema, though I'm not sure I'd have chosen Hugh Grant to play Will. I've come to respect Hornby for his multi-dimensional characters and great story lines. I mean, he's not Homer writing the Illead or anything, but he's a good storyteller. When I see a Hornby novel with a cover like the one above, I don't really have to think twice.
SLAM is an epistle to the reader. Sam narrates the book as though he were writing to a friend to tell them about the things going on in his life. Sam is 16 years old and things are going along well. His single mum has finally quit seeing her rubbish boyfriend, making him an EX-boyfriend. School is actually going well for once; his art teacher even suggested he might consider going to college for arts and design. His skateboarding is good--he's getting to be a little better than some of the other blokes at the skate park. And Sam's poster of skateboarding legend Tony Hawk has begun talking to him, offering advice about life. All in all, things are good--and yes, perhaps a little strange. Things are even better when Sam's mum drags him to a boring party where he meets the only other teenager there, Alicia. Alicia is beautiful. Like, take-your-breath-away beautiful. Like, make-you-stammer-nonsensical-sentences beautiful. And Alicia-the-beautiful is about to make Sam's life even better when she begins to date him. Sam is officially on top of the world! The relationship with Alicia goes on for a bit, with lots and lots of snogging and the usual teenage relationship patterns: never home, stops skating, spends all his time with Alicia. Then of course comes the boredom. I mean, when you've essentially given up your life to spend every waking moment with a beautiful girl, that girl starts to get dull and boring once her beauty becomes ordinary. Suddenly Sam's life isn't going so well. His skateboarding isn't so good anymore because he never practices. His mum has a new boyfriend. His girlfriend isn't interesting anymore. And then everything takes a decidedly downward turn. Alicia is pregnant. What's worse is that Tony Hawk doesn't seem to have any sage words of wisdom about this situation.
First of all, let's address the obvious; there have been many books written about teenage pregnancy. This isn't exactly ground-breaking fiction. However, Nick Hornby manages to write from the male teenage perspective so well that I never once thought "Ah, no dude would say/think/do that!" In fact, throughout the reading of this novel I was frequently reminded of my 16 year old cousin and her baby's daddy. I'm not familiar with Nick Hornby's biographical context, but I wouldn't be the least bit surprised to learn that he had been a teenage father.
My only complaint about SLAM is that it loses steam once Alicia gets pregnant, which is just barely more than halfway through. Once Sam and Alicia know they're going to be parents, things get very real and a bit uncomfortable with the soon-to-be grandparents. There's an interesting bit when Tony Hawk whizzes Sam into the future to see how it's all going to work out, but after that the novel borders on the mundane. Alicia has the baby. Sam and Alicia try to make a go of being parents together. Things get a bit sticky and the relationship ultimately comes to an end, with both kids promising to be dedicated parents for their baby's sake.
In short, SLAM is a great story written by a good contemporary writer who knows how to relate to his characters. It's not the best thing I've ever read in my life, but it is enjoyable and even worth an LOL at times. Had the laughs continued into the second half of the book, I could have given it a full $$$.