I just finished book #52. It was another book that I couldn’t put down but in a different way this time. I read my second ever Nick Hornby novel, this one called How to Be Good. You know about my theory on books that elicit some sort of psychical response; this one had me laughing out loud more often than not, so it was definitely a good one.
This book also led me to believe that Hornby and I could be great friends, and it is now one of my goals to meet him. If any of you have the 6 degrees of separation thing working in your favor, let me know.
So the book was about the failing marriage of two middle-aged people named Katie and David., and their two children who were exposed to the marital difficulties more often than not. None of this sounds like the makings of a funny novel, but it was hilarious.
Katie is a doctor and the primary breadwinner for the family, and David (at the beginning of the novel) is a cynical, outraged person who makes a living on a newspaper column and brochure copy writing, and spends the rest of his time working on his novel. He’s very obviously unhappy. It wears on Katie and she uses that to rationalize an affair that she has.
In the beginning, things are relatively simplified by the cut and dry belief that Katie (despite her affair) is “good” and David (and his petulance and inability to be happy) is “bad.” This dynamic changes when David undergoes consultations with a spiritual hippie healer named DJ GoodNews.
David becomes “good” in an idealistic, charitable way, thus causing Katie to question their relationship for a host of contradictory reasons. The story perfectly accesses the “careful what you wish for” adage; while Katie was toying with the idea of seriously asking for a divorce, she realizes that she needs her perpetually angry husband to just be a different, nicer person for her to be happy again. He becomes that person, and she’s still unhappy.
I probably didn’t do that synopsis justice, but this book was hilarious. There’s this fun dramatic irony aspect when Katie, in reacting to and being repelled by David’s recent conversion, begins to kind of turn into his former self. She becomes bitter and cynical, taking the place of her husband.
The characters were wonderful and really human. Katie narrates the whole thing, and once in a while she’ll address the reader directly as if she’s keeping score and needs people to be on her side while she argues endlessly with her family. The children were believable and the hippie healer was appropriately ridiculous.
At the same time though, the book effectively raises the question of how to really be good. David begins donating his children’s toys and electronics, they give up their spare bedroom to a homeless boy for a time, and give money to the homeless. All of this is, on paper, indisputably good, but Hornby effectively makes that debatable in this book.
Basically, Hornby is an incredible writer. I could so clearly picture every character in this story, and I wanted to meet them all and just smile at them. You should all read it and enjoy that same feeling. ◊
It seems to me the plain state of being human is dramatic enough for anyone; you don’t need to be a heroin addict or a performance poet to experience extremity. You just have to love someone.”
– page 94
“As Christopher seems only to be able to breathe through his mouth, his eating is a somewhat alarming cacophony of splutters, grunts, and squelches which Tom regards with utter disdain. People talk about a face that only a mother could love, but Christopher’s entire being would have surely stretch maternal ties beyond the point of elasticity: I have never met a less lovable child, although admittedly Hope, whose peculiar personal aroma has not been dissipated by her proximity to food or other people, runs him close.”
– page 174, Katie being the least maternal mother ever