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If you now imagine being the long-suffering girlfriend of one of these dudes, you are a long way to understanding the tension at the heart of Hornby's fifth novel, a charming and satirical ode to the pleasures of art and the dangers of loving another's art just a little too much.
Despite being the very definition of an insufferable blowhard, Duncan, the superfan, is the funniest and most pitch-perfect character in the novel. This is the kind of guy whose idea of going on holiday is to drag his girlfriend first to Minneapolis, on a search for clues in the aforementioned public toilet, then to San Francisco, where he ditches her to spend the day casing out the last-known residence of Crowe's long-estranged lover, Juliet Beatty. As he does so, he congratulates himself for being a more "serious" fan than the lone teenager engaged in the same activity because he, unlike the teen, is able to cite Crowe's influences -- "Dylan and Leonard Cohen, of course, but also Dylan Thomas, Johnny Cash, Gram Parsons, Shelly, the Book of Job, Camus, Pinter, Beckett and early Dolly Parton" -- though he must acknowledge to himself that "people who didn't understand all this might look at them and decide, erroneously, that they were similar. Both of them had the same need to stand in front of fucking Juliet's house, for example." Though Duncan, a middle-aged professor, has a few other interests -- 1970s American cinema, the novels of Nathanael West, The Wire -- everything else is just a "flirtation": "Tucker Crowe was his life-partner. If Tucker Crowe were to die -- to die in real life, as it were, rather than creatively -- Duncan would lead the mourning." (He has, naturally, already prepared the obituary).
This doesn't sit particularly well with the person who seems to be his actual life partner, Annie, who feels "less like a girlfriend than a school chum who'd come to visit on the holidays and stayed for the next twenty years." As two of the few liberal arts graduates in a sleepy seaside English town called Gooleness -- at each mentionof it I could hear Morrissey crooning about "the seaside town / they forgot to close down" -- they were matched up by friends in a sort of "arranged marriage" in their early 20s, then "stayed like that forever, stuck in a perpetual postgraduate world where gigs and books and films mattered more to them than they did to other people of their age." At 39, Annie works at the local museum, where she curates an exhibit on perhaps the most exciting year in the town's history, the summer of '64, when the Stones played and a 25-foot shark washed up on the local beach and died. But she is beginning to feel that all their free time is "sort of...decadent" and idly wishes for a child, though "neither of them would have felt comfortable applying cement to their relationship in that way."
Enter Tucker Crowe to disturb their torpor. By chance, Annie is the only one at home when the postman comes bearing Duncan's Holy Grail, a freshly released promo CD of a stripped-down version of Juliet, suitably named Juliet Naked. In a fit of disobedience, she listens to it first. She is right to assume that Duncan will take this as an act of "naked aggression," but then she commits an even more unpardonable sin: She finds it boring ("like listening to one of those people you've never heard of who comes onstage at lunchtime in a folk festival"). Naturally Duncan, following the music geek's rule that a track's genius is in direct ratio to its obscurity, finds the record revelatory and takes Annie's indifference to it as, in her words, "a moral failing" and a "character weakness." Annie, in a rare act of spunk, posts her dissenting opinion next to Duncan's on the Crowe fan site (though he remains skeptical that she is "qualified" to match the "expertise" of his fellow Internet Crowologists).
Here's where things get good: Tucker Crowe, the genius, as it turns out, is now a stay-at-home Little League dad of a six-year-old boy, living in suburban Pennsylvania, and supported by his much younger wife. The wild-eyed, bearded man thought to be Crowe by Duncan and his cronies is actually Crowe's neighbor, formerly known as Farmer John, who, since being captured on camera by a crazed Crowe fan who mistook him for his hero, is now known as Fucker (for "Fake Tucker," a nickname even funnier when it comes out of the mouth of Crowe's six-year-old, Jackson). Annie learns all this when Crowe, who prefers her seemingly blasphemous review to Duncan's, strikes up an email romance with her. Meanwhile, the world's leading Crowologist, disillusioned by his tone-deaf girlfriend, takes a stab at having his first-ever affair, choosing a henna-haired colleague.
Once one realizes that the narrative train seems to be headed toward a fanboy being cuckolded by his true "life partner," the notion is so delicious that one can forgive a few rom-com-ready sleights of hand. One tries not to think to hard about the silliness of both Annie and Tucker being conveniently ditched by their unfaithful partners within 24 hours of one another or to wonder aloud if a 55-year-old "serial husband" whose six-year-old son is already obsessed with his father's impending mortality is really the best partner for a 39-year-old childless woman. Instead, one can cackle with wicked appreciation when Duncan laments, "If you imagined it all as a department store, he was in basement, with the lamps and the dishes; the Juliets were all in Ladies Intimates, a couple of escalator rides away" -- all the while not knowing that the lamp he recently cast off is on the fast track to possibly becoming his hero's new Juliet.
Hornby has the grace and restraint to duck out while the fate of all of his characters are still an open question: In the words of Tucker: "The truth about life is was that nothing ever ended until you died, and even then you just left a whole bunch of unresolved narratives behind you." But once again, he's crafted a perfect pop song of a novel: Warm and funny, with a disarmingly familiar chorus of voices that disguises just how difficult this kind of act is to pull off. --Amy Benfer
Amy Benfer has worked as an editor and staff writer at Salon, Legal Affairs, and Paper magazine. Her reviews and features on books have appeared in Salon, The San Francisco Chronicle Book Review, The Believer, Kirkus, and The New York Times Book Review.
They had flown from England to Minneapolis to look at a toilet.
The simple truth of this only struck Annie when they were actually inside it: apart from the graffi ti on the walls, some of which made some kind of reference to the toilet's importance in musical history, it was dank, dark, smelly and entirely unremarkable. Americans were very good at making the most of their heritage, but there wasn't much even they could do here.
"Have you got the camera, Annie?" said Duncan.
"Yes. But what do you want a picture of?"
"Just, you know . . . "
"Well . . . the toilet."
"What, the . . . What do you call those things?"
"The urinals. Yeah."
"Do you want to be in it?"
"Shall I pretend to have a pee?"
"If you want."
So Duncan stood in front of the middle of the three urinals, his hands placed convincingly in front of him, and smiled back over his shoulder at Annie.
"I'm not sure the fl ash worked."
"One more. Be silly to come all the way here and not get a good one."
This time Duncan stood just inside one of the stalls, with the door open. The light was better there, for some reason. Annie took as good a picture of a man in a toilet as one could reasonably expect. When Duncan moved, she could see that this toilet, like just about every other one she'd ever seen in a rock club, was blocked.
"Come on," said Annie. "He didn't even want me in here."
This was true. The guy behind the bar had initially suspected that they were looking for a place where they could shoot up, or perhaps have sex. Eventually, and hurtfully, the barman had clearly decided that they were capable of doing neither thing.
Duncan took one last look and shook his head. "If toilets could talk, eh?"
Annie was glad this one couldn't. Duncan would have wanted to chat to it all night.
Most people are unaware of Tucker Crowe's music, let alone some of the darker moments of his career, so the story of what may or may not have happened to him in the restroom of the Pits Club is probably worth repeating here. Crowe was in Minneapolis for a show and had turned up at the Pits to see a local band called the Napoleon Solos which he'd heard good things about. (Some Crowe completists, Duncan being one, own a copy of the local band's one and only album, The Napoleon Solos Sing Their Songs and Play Their Guitars.) In the middle of the set, Tucker went to the toilet. Nobody knows what happened in there, but when he came out, he went straight back to his hotel and phoned his manager to cancel the rest of the tour. The next morning he began what we must now think of as his retirement. That was in June 1986. Nothing more has been heard of him since—no new recordings, no gigs, no interviews. If you love Tucker Crowe as much as Duncan and a couple of thousand other people in the world do, that toilet has a lot to answer for. And since, as Duncan had so rightly observed, it can't speak, Crowe fans have to speak on its behalf. Some claim that Tucker saw God, or one of His representatives, in there; others claim he had a near-death experience after an overdose. Another school of thought has it that he caught his girlfriend having sex with his bass player in there, although Annie found this theory a little fanciful. Could the sight of a woman screwing a musician in a toilet really have resulted in twenty-two years of silence? Perhaps it could. Perhaps it was just that Annie had never experienced passion that intense. Anyway. Whatever. All you need to know is that something profound and life-changing took place in the smallest room of a small club.
Annie and Duncan were in the middle of a Tucker Crowe pilgrimage. They had wandered around New York, looking at various clubs and bars that had some kind of Crowe connection, although most of these sites of historic interest were now designer clothes stores, or branches of McDonald's. They had been to his childhood home in Bozeman, Montana, where, thrillingly, an old lady came out of her house to tell them that Tucker used to clean her husband's old Buick when he was a kid. The Crowe family home was small and pleasant and was now owned by the manager of a small printing business, who was surprised that they had traveled all the way from England to see the outside of his house, but who didn't ask them in. From Montana they flew to Memphis, where they visited the site of the old American Sound Studio (the studio itself having been knocked down in 1990), where Tucker, drunk and grieving, recorded Juliet, his legendary breakup album, and the one Annie liked the most. Still to come: Berkeley, California, where Juliet—in real life a former model and socialite called Julie Beatty—still lived to this day. They would stand outside her house, just as they had stood outside the printer's house, until Duncan could think of no reason to carry on looking, or until Julie called the police, a fate that had befallen a couple of other Crowe fans that Duncan knew from the message boards.
Annie didn't regret the trip. She'd been to the U.S. a couple of times, to San Francisco and New York, but she liked the way Tucker was taking them to places she'd other wise never have visited. Bozeman, for example, turned out to be a beautiful little mountain town, surrounded by exotic-sounding ranges she'd never heard of: the Big Belt, the Tobacco Root, the Spanish Peaks. After staring at the small and unremarkable house, they walked into town and sipped iced tea in the sunshine outside an organic café, while in the distance the odd Spanish Peak, or possibly the top of a Tobacco Root, threatened to puncture the cold blue sky. She'd had worse mornings than that on holidays that had promised much more. It was a sort of random, pin-sticking tour of America, as far as she was concerned. She got sick of hearing about Tucker, of course, and talking about him and listening to him and attempting to understand the reasons behind every creative and personal decision he'd ever made. But she got sick of hearing about him at home, too, and she'd rather get sick of him in Montana or Tennessee than in Gooleness, the small seaside town in England where she shared a house with Duncan.
The one place that wasn't on the itinerary was Tyrone, Pennsylvania, where Tucker was believed to live, although, as with all orthodoxies, there were heretics: two or three of the Crowe community subscribed to the theory—interesting but preposterous, according to Duncan—that he'dbeen living in New Zealand since the early nineties. Tyrone hadn't even been mentioned as a possible destination when they'd been planning the trip, and Annie thought she knew why. A couple of years ago, one of the fans went out to Tyrone, hung around, eventually located what he understood to be Tucker Crowe's farm; he came back with a photograph of an alarmingly grizzled-looking man aiming a shotgun at him. Annie had seen the picture, many times, and she found it distressing. The man's face was disfi gured by rage and fear, as if everything he'd worked for and believed in was in the process of being destroyed by a Canon Sure Shot. Duncan wasn't too concerned about the rape of Crowe's privacy: the fan, Neil Ritchie, had achieved a kind of Zapruder level of fame and respect among the faithful that Annie suspected Duncan rather envied. What had perturbed him was that Tucker Crowe had called Neil Ritchie a "fucking asshole." Duncan couldn't have borne that.
After the visit to the restroom at the Pits, they took advice from the concierge and ate at a Thai restaurant in the Riverfront District a couple of blocks away. Minneapolis, it turned out, was on the Mississippi—who knew, apart from Americans, and just about anyone else who'd paid attention in geography lessons?—so Annie ended up ticking off something else she'd never expected to see, although here at the less romantic end it looked disappointingly like the Thames. Duncan was animated and chatty, still unable quite to believe that he'd been inside a place that had occupied so much of his imaginative energy over the years.
"Do you think it's possible to teach a whole course on the toilet?"
"With you just sitting on it, you mean? You wouldn't get it past Health and Safety."
"I didn't mean that."
Sometimes Annie wished that Duncan had a keener sense of humor—a keener sense that something might be meant humorously, anyway. She knew it was too late to hope for actual jokes.
"I meant, teach a whole course on the toilet in the Pits."
Duncan looked at her.
"Are you teasing me?"
"No. I'm saying that a whole course about Tucker
Crowe's twenty-year-old visit to the toilet wouldn't be very iinteresting."
"I'd include other things."
"Other toilet visits in history?"
"No. Other career-defi ning moments."
"Elvis had a good toilet moment. Pretty careerdefi
"Dying's different. Too unwilled. John Smithers wrote an essay for the website about that. Creative death versus actual death. It was actually pretty interesting." Annie nodded enthusiastically, while at the same time hoping that Duncan wouldn't print it off and put it in front of her when they got home.
"I promise that after this holiday I won't be so Tuckercentric," he said.
"That's okay. I don't mind."
"I've wanted to do this for a long time."
"I'll have got him out of my system."
"I hope not."
"What would there be left of you, if you did?"
She hadn't meant it cruelly. She'd been with Duncan for nearly fifteen years, and Tucker Crowe had always been part of the package, like a disability. To begin with, the condition hadn't prevented him from living a normal life: yes, he'd written a book, as yet unpublished, about Tucker, lectured on him, contributed to a radio documentary for the BBC and organized conventions, but somehow these activities had always seemed to Annie like isolated episodes, sporadic attacks.
And then the Internet came along and changed everything. When, a little later than everyone else, Duncan discovered how it all worked, he set up a website called "Can Anybody Hear Me?"—the title of a track from an obscure EP recorded after the wounding failure of Crowe's first album. Until then, the nearest fellow fan had lived in Manchester, sixty or seventy miles away, and Tucker met up with him once or twice a year; now the nearest fans lived in Duncan's laptop, and there were hundredsof them, from all around the world, and Duncan spoke to them all the time. There seemed to be a surprising amount to talk about. The website had a "Latest News" section, which never failed to amuse Annie, Tucker no longer being a man who did an awful lot. ("As far as we know," Duncan always said.) There was always something that passed for news among the faithful, though—a Crowe night on an Internet radio station, a new article, a new album from a former band member, an interview with an engineer. The bulk of the content, though, consisted of essays analyzing lyrics, or discussing infl uences, or conjecturing, apparently inexhaustibly, about the silence. It wasn't as if Duncan didn't have other interests. He had a specialist knowledge of 1970s American independent cinema and the novels of Nathanael West and he was developing a nice new line in HBO television series—he thought he might be ready to teach The Wire in the not-too-distant future. But these were all fl irtations, by comparison. Tucker Crowe was his life partner. If Crowe were to die—to die in real life, as it were, rather than creatively—Duncan would lead the mourning. (He'd already written the obituary. Every now and again he'd worry out loud about whether he should show it to a reputable newspaper now, or wait until it was needed.)
If Tucker was the husband, then Annie should somehow have become the mistress, but of course that wasn't right—the word was much too exotic and implied a level of sexual activity that would horrify them both nowadays. It would have daunted them even in the early days of their relationship. Sometimes Annie felt less like a girlfriend than a school chum who'd come to visit in the holidays and stayed for the next twenty years. They had both moved to the same English seaside town at around the same time, Duncan to fi nish his thesis and Annie to teach, and they had been introduced by mutual friends who could see that, if nothing else, they could talk about books and music, go to fi lms, travel to London occasionally to see exhibitions and gigs. Gooleness wasn't a sophisticated town. There was no arts cinema, there was no gay community, there wasn't even a Waterstone's (the nearest one was up the road in Hull), and they fell upon each other with relief. They started drinking together in the evenings and sleeping over at weekends, until eventually the sleepovers turned into something indistinguishable from cohabitation. And they had stayed like that forever, stuck in a perpetual postgraduate world where gigs and books and films mattered more to them than they did to other people of their age.
The decision not to have children had never been made, and nor had there been any discussion resulting in a postponement of the decision. It wasn't that kind of a sleep over. Annie could imagine herself as a mother, but Duncan was nobody's idea of a father, and anyway, neither of them would have felt comfortable applying cement to the relationship in that way. That wasn't what they were for. And now, with an irritating predictability, she was going through what everyone had told her she would go through: she was aching for a child. Her aches were brought on by all the usual mournful-happy life events: Christmas, the pregnancy of a friend, the pregnancy of a complete stranger she saw in the street. And she wanted a child for all the usual reasons, as far as she could tell. She wanted to feel unconditional love, rather than the faint conditional affection she could scrape together for Duncan every now and again; she wanted to be held by someone who would never question the embrace, the why or the who or the how long. There was another reason, too: she
needed to know that she could have one, that there was life in her. Duncan had put her to sleep, and in her sleep she'd been desexed.
She'd get over all this, presumably; or at least one day it would become a wistful regret, rather than a sharp hunger. But this holiday hadn't been designed to comfort her. There was an argument that you might as well change nappies as hang out in men's lavatories taking pictures. The amount of time they had for themselves was beginning to feel sort of . . . decadent.
At breakfast in their cheap and nasty hotel in downtown San Francisco, Annie read the Chronicle and decided she didn't want to see the hedge obscuring the front lawn of Julie Beatty's house in Berkeley. There were plenty of other things to do in the Bay Area. She wanted to see Haight-Ashbury, she wanted to buy a book at City Lights, she wanted to visit Alcatraz, she wanted to walk across the Golden Gate Bridge. There was an exhibition of postwar West Coast art on at the Museum of Modern Art just down the street. She was happy that Tucker had lured them out to California, but she didn't want to spend a morning watching Julie's neighbors decide whether they constituted a security risk.
"You're joking," said Duncan.
"No," she said. "I really can think of better things to do."
"When we've come all this way? Why have you gone like this all of a sudden? Aren't you interested? I mean, supposing she drives out of her garage while we're outside?"
"Then I'd feel even more stupid," she said. "She'd look at me and think, ‘I wouldn't expect any different from him. He's one of the creepy guys. But what's a woman doing there?' "
"You're having me on."
"I'm really not, Duncan. We're in San Francisco for twenty-four hours and I don't know when I'll be back. Going to some woman's house . . . If you had a day in London, would you spend it outside somebody's house in, I don't know, Gospel Oak?"
"But if you've actually come to see somebody's house in Gospel Oak . . . And it's not just some woman's house, you know that. Things happened there. I'm going to stand where he stood."
No, it wasn't just any house. Everybody, apart from just about everybody, knew that. Julie Beatty had been living there with her first husband, who taught at Berkeley, when she met Tucker at a party thrown by Francis Ford Coppola. She left her husband that night. Very shortly afterward, however, she thought better of it all and went home to patch things up. That was the story, anyway. Annie had never really understood how Duncan and his fellow fans could be quite so certain about tiny private tumults that took place decades ago, but they were. "You and Your Perfect Life," the seven-minute song that ends the album, is supposed to be about the night Tucker stood outside the family home, "Throwing stones at the window / 'Til he came to the door / So where were you, Mrs. Steven Balfour?" The husband wasn't called Steven Balfour, needless to say, and the choice of a fi ctitious name had inevitably provoked endless speculation on the message boards. Duncan's theory was that he had been named after the British prime minister, the man who was accused by Lloyd George of turning the House of Lords into "Mr. Balfour's poodle"—Juliet, by extension, has become her husband's poodle. This interpretation is now accepted as definitive
by the Tucker community, and if you look up "You and Your Perfect Life" on Wikipedia, apparently, you'll see Duncan's name in the footnotes, with a link to his essay. Nobody on the website had ever dared wonder aloud whether the surname had been chosen simply because it rhymed with the word "door."
Annie loved "You and Your Perfect Life." She loved its relentless anger, and the way Tucker moved from autobiography to social commentary by turning the song into a rant about how smart women got obliterated by their men. She didn't usually like howling guitar solos, but she liked the way that the howling guitar solo in "Perfect Life" seemed just as articulate and as angry as the lyrics. And she loved the irony of it all—the way that Tucker, the man wagging his fi nger at Steven Balfour, had obliterated Julie more completely than her husband had ever managed. She would be the woman who broke Tucker's heart forever. Annie felt sorry for Julie, who'd had to deal with men like Duncan throwing stones at her windows, metaphorically and probably literally, every now and again, ever since the song was released. But she envied her, too. Who wouldn't want to make a man that passionate, that unhappy, that inspired? If you couldn't write songs yourself, then surely what Julie had done was the next best thing?
She still didn't want to see the house, though. After breakfast she took a cab to the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge and walked back toward the city, the salt wind somehow sharpening her joy in being alone.
Duncan felt slightly odd, going to Juliet's place without Annie. She tended to arrange their transport to wherever they were going, and she was the one who knew the way back to wherever they had come from. He would rather have devoted his mental energy to Julie, the person, and Juliet, the album; he was intending to listen to it straight through twice, the fi rst time in its released form, the second time with the songs placed in the order that Tucker Crowe originally wanted them, according to the sound engineer in charge of the sessions. But that wasn't going to work out now, because he was going to need all his concentration for the BART. As far as he could tell, he had to get on at Powell Street and take the red line up to North Berkeley. It looked easy but, of course, it wasn't, because once he was down on the platform he couldn't find any way of telling what was a red-line train and what wasn't, and he couldn't ask anyone. Asking somebody would make it look as though he wasn't a native, and though this wouldn't matter in Rome or Paris or even in London, it mattered here, where so many things that were important to him had happened. And because he couldn't ask, he ended up on a yellow-line train, only he couldn't tell it was yellow until he got to Rockridge, which meant that he had to go back to the 19th St. Oakland stop and change. What was wrong with her? He knew she wasn't as devoted to Tucker Crowe as he was, but he'd thought that
in recent years she'd started to get it, properly. A couple of times he'd come home to fi nd her playing "You and Your
Perfect Life," although he'd been unable to interest her in the infamous but superior Bottom Line bootleg version, when Tucker had smashed his guitar to smithereens at the end of the solo. (The sound was a little muddy, admittedly, and an annoying drunk person kept shouting "Rock 'n' roll!" into the bootlegger's microphone during the last verse, but if it was anger and pain she was after, then this was the one.) He'd tried to pretend that her decision not to come was perfectly understandable, but the truth was, he was hurt. Hurt and, temporarily at least, lost. Getting to North Berkeley station felt like an achievement in itself, and he allowed himself the luxury of asking for directions to Edith Street as a reward. It was fi ne, not knowing the way to a residential street. Even natives couldn't be expected to know everything. Except of course the moment he opened his mouth, the woman he picked on wanted to tell him that she'd spent a year in Kensington, London, after she'd graduated.
He hadn't expected the streets to be quite so long and hilly, nor the houses quite so far apart, and by the time he found the right house, he was sweaty and thirsty, while at the same time bursting for a pee. There was no doubt he'd have been clearer-headed if he'd stopped somewhere near the BART station for a drink and a visit to the restroom. But he'd been thirsty and in need of a toilet before, and had always resisted the temptation to break into a stranger's house.
When he got to 1131 Edith Street, there was a kid sitting on the pavement outside, his back against a fence that looked as though it might have been erected simply to stop him from getting any further. He was in his late teens, with long, greasy hair and a wispy goatee, and when he realized that Duncan had come to look at the house, he stood up and dusted himself off.
"Yo," he said.
Duncan cleared his throat. He couldn't bring himself to return the greeting, but he offered a "Hi" instead of a "Hello," just to show that he had an informal register.
"They're not home," said the kid. "I think they might have gone to the East Coast. The Hamptons or some shit like that."
"Oh. Right. Oh well."
"You know them?"
"No, no. I just . . . You know, I'm a, well, a Crowologist. I was just in the neighborhood, so I thought, you know . . . "
"You from England?"
"You came all the way from England to see where Tucker Crowe threw his stones?" The kid laughed, so Duncan laughed, too.
"No, no. God no. Ha! I had some business in the city, and I thought, you know . . . What are you doing here, anyway?"
"Juliet is my favorite album of all time."
Duncan nodded. The teacher in him wanted to point out the non sequitur; the fan understood completely. How could he not? He didn't get the sidewalk-sitting, though. Duncan's plan had been to look, imagine the trajectory of the stones, maybe take a picture and then leave. The boy, however, seemed to regard the house as if it were a place of spiritual significance, capable of promoting a profound inner peace.
"I've been here, like, six or seven times?" the boy said.
"Always blows me away."
"I know what you mean," said Duncan, although he didn't. Perhaps it was his age, or his Englishness, but he wasn't being blown away, and he hadn't expected to be, either. It was, after all, a pleasant detached house they were standing outside, not the Taj Mahal. In any case, the need to pee was preventing any real appreciation of the moment.
"You wouldn't happen to know . . . What's your
"Elliott, you wouldn't happen to know if there's a Starbucks near here? Or something? I need a restroom."
"Ha!" said the kid.
Duncan stared at him. What kind of answer was that?
"See, I do know one right near here. But I kind of promised myself I wouldn't use it again."
"Right," said Duncan. "But . . . Would it matter if
"Kind of. Because I'd still be breaking the promise."
"Oh. Well, as I don't really understand what kind of promise you can make with regard to a public lavatory, I'm not sure I can help you with your ethical dilemma."
The boy laughed. "I love the way you English talk. ‘Ethical dilemma.' That's great."
Duncan didn't disabuse him, although he did wonder how many of his students back home would even have been able to repeat the phrase accurately, let alone use it themselves.
"But you don't think you can help me."
"Oh. Well. Maybe. How about if I told you how to fi nd it but I didn't come with you?"
"I wasn't really expecting you to come with me, to be honest."
"No. Right. I should explain. The nearest toilet to here is in there." Elliott pointed down the driveway toward Juliet's house.
"Yes, well, I suppose it would be," said Duncan. "But that doesn't really help me."
"Except I know where they keep their spare key."
"You're kidding me."
"No. I've been inside like three times? Once to use the shower. A couple times just to see what I could see. I never steal anything big. Just, you know, paperweights and shit. Souvenirs."
Duncan examined the boy's face for evidence of an elaborate joke, a satirical dig at Crowologists, and decided thatElliott hadn't made a joke since he'd turned seventeen.
"You let yourself into their house when they're out?"
The boy shrugged. "Yeah. I feel bad about it, which is why I wasn't sure about telling you."
Duncan suddenly noticed that on the ground there was a chalk drawing of a pair of feet, and an arrowed line pointing toward the house. Tucker's feet, presumably, and Tucker's stones. He wished he hadn't seen the drawing. It gave him less to do.
"Well, I can't do that."
"No. Sure. I understand."
"So there's nothing else?"
Edith Street was long and leafy, and the next cross street was long and leafy, too. It was the sort of American suburb where residents had to get into their cars to buy a pint of milk.
"Not for a mile or two."
Duncan puffed out his cheeks, a gesture, he realized even as he was making it, intended to prepare the way for the decision he'd already made. He could have gone behind a hedge; he could have left that second, walked back to the BART station and found a café, walked back again if he needed to. Which he didn't, really, because he'd seen all there was to see. That was the root of the problem. If more had been . . . laid on for people like him, he wouldn't have had to create his own excitement. It wouldn't have killed her to mark the significance of the place in some way, would it? With a discreet plaque or something? He hadn't been prepared for the mundanity of Juliet's house, just as he hadn't really been prepared for the malodorous functionality of the men's room in Minneapolis.
"A mile or two? I'm not sure I can wait that long."
"Up to you."
"Where's the key?"
"There's a loose brick in the porch there. Low down."
"And you're sure the key's still there? When did you
"Honestly? I went in just before you came. I didn't take a single thing. But I can never believe that I'm standing in Juliet's house, you know? Fucking Juliet, man!"
Duncan knew that he and Elliott weren't the same. Elliott had surely never written about Crowe—or, if he had, the work would almost certainly have been unpublishable. Duncan also doubted whether Elliott had the emotional maturity to appreciate the breathtaking accomplishment of Juliet (which, as far as Duncan was concerned, was a darker, deeper, more fully realized collection of songs than the overrated Blood on the Tracks), and nor would he have been able to cite its influences: Dylan and Leonard Cohen, of course, but also Dylan Thomas, Johnny Cash, Gram Parsons, Shelley, the Book of Job, Camus, Pinter, Beckett and early Dolly Parton. But people who didn't understand all this might look at them and decide, erroneously, that they were similar in some way. Both of them had the same need to stand in fucking Juliet's house, for example. Duncan followed Elliott down the short driveway to the house and watched as the boy groped for the key and opened the door.
The house was dark—all the blinds were down—and smelled of incense, or maybe some kind of exotic potpourri. Duncan couldn't have lived with it, but presumably Julie Beatty and her family weren't sick with nerves all the time when they were in residence, the way Duncan was feeling now. The smell sharpened his fear and made him wonder whether he might throw up.
He'd made an enormous mistake, but there was no undoing it. He was inside, so even if he didn't use the toilet, he'd still committed the crime. Idiot. And idiot boy, too, for persuading him that this was a good idea. "So there's a small toilet down here, and it's got some cool stuff on the walls. Cartoons and shit. But the bathroom upstairs, you see her makeup and towels and everything. It's spooky. I mean, not spooky to her, probably. But spooky if you only kind of half believe she even existed." Duncan understood the appeal of seeing Julie Beatty's makeup absolutely, and his understanding added to his sense of self-loathing.
"Yes, well, I haven't got time to mess around," said Duncan, hoping that Elliott wouldn't point out the obvious holes in the assertion. "Just point me toward the downstairs one."
They were in a large hallway with several doors leading off it. Elliott nodded at one of them, and Duncan marched toward it briskly, an Englishman with pressing West Coast
business appointments who'd troweled some time out of his hectic schedule to stand on a sidewalk, and then break into someone's house for the hell of it.
He made the pee as splashy as possible, just to prove to Elliott that the need was genuine. He was disappointed by the promised artwork, however. There were a couple of cartoons, one of Julie and one of a middle-aged man who still looked something like the old photos Duncan had seen of her husband, but they looked like they'd been done by one of those artists who hang out at tourist traps, and in any case they were both post-Tucker, which meant that they could have been pictures of any American middle-class couple. He was washing his hands in the
tiny sink when Elliott shouted through the door, "Oh, and there's the drawing. That's still up in their dining room."
"The drawing that Tucker did of her, back in the day."
Duncan opened the door and stared at him.
"What do you mean?"
"You know Tucker's an artist, right?"
"No." And then, because this made him sound like an amateur, "Well, yes. Of course. But I didn't know . . . " He didn't know what he didn't know, but Elliott didn't notice.
"Yeah," said Elliott. "In here."
The dining room was at the back of the house, with French windows leading out onto a terrace, presumably, or a lawn—there were curtains drawn over them. The drawing was hung over the fireplace, and it was big, maybe four feet by three, a head-and-shoulders portrait of Julie in profile, half squinting through her cigarette smoke at something in the middle distance. She looked, in fact, as if she were studying another work of art. It was a beautiful portrait, reverential and romantic, but not idealized—it was too sad, for a start. It somehow seemed to suggest the impending end of his relationship with the sitter, although of course Duncan might have been imagining that. He might have been imagining the meaning, he might have been imagining the power and charm. Indeed, he could have been imagining the drawing itself.
Duncan moved in closer. There was a signature in the bottom left-hand corner, and that was thrilling enough to require separate examination and contemplation. In a quarter of a century of fandom, he'd never seen Tucker's handwriting. And while he was staring at the signature, he realized something else: that for the first time since 1986 he hadn't been able to respond to a piece of work by Crowe. So he stopped looking at the signature and stepped back to look at the picture again.
"You should really see it in the daylight," said Elliott.
He drew back the curtains on the French windows, and almost immediately they found themselves staring at a gardener mowing the lawn. He saw them and started shouting and gesticulating, and before Duncan knew it, he was out the front door and halfway up the road, running and sweating, his legs shaking with nerves, his heart pounding so hard he thought he might not make it to the end of the street and possible safety.
It wasn't until the doors on the BART closed behind him that he felt safe. He'd lost Elliott almost immediately—he'd run out of that house as fast as he could, but the boy was faster, and almost immediately out of sight. And he never wanted to see him again anyway. It had been pretty much all his fault, there was no doubt about that; he'd provided both the temptation and the means to break in. Duncan had been stupid, yes, but his powers of reasoning had been scrambled by his bladder, and . . . Elliott had corrupted him, was the truth of it. Scholars like him were always going to be vulnerable to the excesses of obsessives, because, yes, they shared a tiny strand of the same DNA. His heart rate began to slow. He was calming himself down with the familiar stories he always told himself when doubt crept in.
When the train stopped at the next station, however, a Latino who looked a little like the gardener in the back garden got into Duncan's car, and his stomach shot toward his knees while his heart leaped halfway up his windpipe, and no amount of self-justification could help him put his internal organs back where they belonged.
What really frightened him was how spectacularly his transgression had paid off. All these years he'd done nothing more than read and listen and think, and though he'd been stimulated by these activities, what had he uncovered, really? And yet by behaving like a teenage hooligan with a screw loose, he had made a major breakthrough. He was the only Crowologist in the world (Elliott was nobody's idea of a Crowologist) who knew about that picture, and he could never tell anyone about it, unless he wished to own up to being mentally unbalanced. Every other year spent on his chosen subject had been barren compared to the last couple of hours. But that couldn't be the way forward, surely? He didn't want to be the kind of man who plunged his arms into trash cans in the hope of finding a letter, or a piece of bacon rind that Crowe might have chewed. By the time he got back to the hotel, he had convinced himself he was finished with Tucker Crowe.
THE FREE ENCYCOPEDIA
Juliet, released in April 1986, is singer-songwriter Tucker Crowe's sixth and (at the time of writing) last studio album. Crowe went into retirement later that year and has made no music of any kind since. At the time it received ecstatic reviews, although like the rest of Crowe's work it sold only moderately, reaching number 29 on the Billboard charts. Since then, however, it has been widely recognized by critics as a classic breakup album to rank with Dylan's Blood on the Tracks and Springsteen's Tunnel of Love. Juliet tells the story of Crowe's relationship with Julie Beatty, a noted beauty and L.A. scenester of the early eighties, from its beginnings ("And You Are?") to its bitter conclusion ("You and Your Perfect Life"), when Beatty returned to her husband, Michael Posey. The second side of the album is regarded as one of the most tortured sequences of songs in popular music.
Various musicians who played on the album have talked about Crowe's fragile state of mind during the recording of the album. Scotty Phillips has described how Crowe came at him with an oxyacetylene torch before the guitarist's incendiary solo on "You and Your Perfect Life."
In one of his last interviews, Crowe expressed surprise at the enthusiasm for the record. "Yeah, people keep telling me they love it. But I don't really understand them. To me, it's the sound of someone having his fingernails pulled out. Who wants to listen to that?"
Julie Beatty claimed in a 1992 interview that she no longer owned a copy of Juliet. "I don't need that in my life. If I want someone yelling at me for forty-five minutes, I'll call my mother."
Various musicians, including the late Jeff Buckley, Michael Stipe and Peter Buck of REM, and Chris Martin of Coldplay, have talked about the influence of Juliet on their careers. Buck's side project The Minus Five and Coldplay both recorded songs for the tribute album released in 2002, Wherefore Art Thou?.
1) And You Are?
3) We're in Trouble
4) In Too Deep
5) Who Do You Love?
1) Dirty Dishes
2) The Better Man
3) The Twentieth Call of the Day
4) Blood Ties
5) You and Your Perfect Life
Posted September 29, 2009
Read this book in galleys and, after a slow start, couldn't help liking it. As with a lot of people, I suppose, I've enjoyed movie adaptations of Hornby's books (e.g., High Fidelity and About a Boy) without ever turning to the books themselves. I confess I spent a lot of time reading Juliet, Naked envisioning it as a movie (I'll go on record predicting that Emma Thompson will play Anne), and I suspect Hornby does the same. But that's a good thing. His writing is direct, uncomplicated, unshowy -- almost unliterary, if you will. And thanks to his characters mostly being in "the middle way" -- that is, older than younger -- as I am I may have appreciated it more than would someone, say, under 30 (or maybe even 40). That said, though it focuses on a fictional washed up American pop singer you needn't be a huge music fan to appreciate the story line. Similarly, the English Hornby does a fine job of handling the collision of English and American characters and their preconceptions and prejudices. So give it a go, and if you're impatient after 50 pages try another 50. Hornby takes a while to warm up. But when he does, I found his characters and their issues involving and entertaining.
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Posted October 19, 2009
I've read most of Hornby's novels and have been a fan since reading the first. As with the other books, I grew attached to the main characters and was sorry to have the story end knowing I wouldn't "see" them again.
I actually did the audiobook which was fabulous because of the accents and I found myself more than once laughing out loud. I would leave for work in a hurry just so I could get back to listening to the CD in my car! Nick Hornby is very witty and now I am back in the waiting mode for his next book to come along.
Regarding a movie version of Juliet, Naked - Emma Thompson is 50 and older than Annie and I don't see that at all (and I'm an Emma fan - just don't see her as Annie).
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Posted February 18, 2013
Meh. I like Hornsby's work, but this wasn't my favorite novel. I think he writes great dialogue, and it's definitely readable. However, I thought the last half fell a bit flat.
Hornsby is usually great at crafting characters you'll care about. I felt for Annie, hoping she'd find what she needed in love and get on with her life. I found Duncan both despicable and pityable. He's the sort of buffoon you love to see fail. I thought he was well-written in a comic, butt-of-the-joke sort of way.
Unfortunately, Tucker was the character I related to the least. I think I the book would have resonated more with me if I'd gotten him better. However, I thought he seem selfish, didn't have enough complexity, and was....well, boring.
I like what the book had to say about the creation of art. It's interesting to analyze how bad people can make good art. Also, it says a lot about how the internet lets people obsess over their celeb of choice. That's often an unhealthy thing, but for the artist and the obsessed.
Some of the peripheral parts of the book had me skimming...the nightclub dancers, the art gallery exhibition, etc. They didn't have enough meat to keep me caring.
I wish the last half of the book had more oomph. I wasn't content with the ending. There were too many questions left unanswered for me.
Even with all those complaints, Hornsby is still a fun storyteller. He's great with dialogue, and the book would be good on a plane. It's funny and light, just don't expect the earth to move.
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Posted February 7, 2012
Highly recommend this one. Check it out. If liked High Fidelity you'll like this book. I would recommend this book for a book club discussion on books with a musical theme.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 2, 2012
Posted December 31, 2011
Posted November 26, 2011
I started reading Juliet, Naked last night, but fell asleep around two in the morning due to exhaustion. The first thing I did when I woke up? Started from where I had left off. The book is well-written, witty, and had a wonderful use of comedy to ease the conflict. The characters have so much depth, there's not a Mary Sue or Gary Stu within the pages. They all have flaws they're trying to come to terms with. Even Tucker's son, six-year-old Jackson, says the most entertaining things. It's definitely a book where you'll be reading and Hornby has written something so magnificent you want to write it down or contemplate it for a few minutes. The plot can be predictable at times, but ultimately you'll be too absorbed in his writing that what's predictable seems to hold little of importance and what you never saw coming seems all the more shocking. I would recommend the novel to ANYONE!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 12, 2011
Posted January 27, 2011
Hornby uses the word "malodorous" three times in this book -- and I shall use it once here to describe this book overall.
Hornby does a decent job setting up the characters. Duncan is daft. Annie is wonderful. But Tucker was recycled from About A Boy -- a used up songwriter.
Why I am giving this book such a poor review is the ending. It seems that, if I invested the time to follow the lives of these three characters, that investment should at least be paid off with a clear sense of where they are going at the end. A sense of finality. Instead, after reading the book, I feel the same existential angst that Annie has through the book -- that I have wasted my time.
Annie called Crowe on his uninspired performance, and I'm doing the same here with Hornby. This is not his best work. When I saw the name "Horby", I expected more.
Two stars from me -- at least Hornby still gets those moments of poignancy right.
Posted November 12, 2010
"That seemed like an ambition, of sorts: to get to a stage where she wanted to hang herself because putting a T-shirt on a child's bed seemed indicative of the slow and painful death of the spirit. At the moment, she wanted to hang herself because it seemed like the first tiny glimmers of a rebirth." (pg. 376)
As I was perusing the book stands last weekend, I stumbled upon Nick Hornby's latest novel, Juliet Naked. An avid High Fidelity fan (both the book and the movie), I was eager to pick up Hornby's new book and devour it immediately.
Juliet, Naked is so essential Hornby that you could pick it up with the author's name scrubbed out and still know it was him. His writing is straightforward, thoughtful, and easy. But isn't easy to be confused with lack of depth, because in his easy writing comes alive three characters fleshed out to their basest level, giving readers a look into the lives of very different people with one thing in common: Tucker Crowe.
Tucker Crowe is the focal point of the book. Crowe is a former 80's rock star with a cult following due to his twenty-year disappearance. As with many Hornby novels, he describes Crowe's music, lyrics, and sound with such authenticity that you start to believe that Crowe was an actual musician, with Hornby writing the biography. I'm continually amazed with Hornby's ability to stay within a particular few genres of music from book to book and still maintain a level of curiosity in his characters. It's almost sad that there wasn't a soundtrack to go along with this of Crowe's music.
The essence of a good book, to me, is the internal struggle that a character feels. However, the genius comes in when the author doesn't make it hard to see into that while at the same time not dumbing anything down. Hornby is a master at this, especially one-liners that are so basic but are packed with pounds of meaning. A cousin of this are his statements of profound insight, presented in a non-pretentious and warm way:
"But then that's what art is, sometimes, he always felt: something that confers advantages" (pg. 347-348).
Hornby's English wit comes across like a siren on a fire truck, but is also masterful in his American comedy, making the transition between the two seamless and natural. And, as he is known, he can portray the thoughts and actions of a child in some of the most realistic situations, providing a wonderfully realistic landscape for relationships with all the supporting roles.
Overall it's a great read for fans of Hornby's writing. I hate to think this, but unfortunately some of his writing may be seen as overdramatic and pompous if you don't view music as a vehicle for change or a heavy instrument producing significant life lessons. What I'm saying is that you have to love music to appreciate his writing, plain and simple.
Pick it up if you can. It's a quick read at 406 pages and I finished in about three days. Up next: The Help.
Posted May 18, 2010
I Also Recommend:
"Juliet, Naked," is an amazing book. I love love love it!!! It starts off with Annie and Duncan who seem to be a happy English couple roaming around the United States on vacation. Early on in the novel it turns out that Annie craves a baby that Duncan cannot deliver, or is too delusional, and wrapped up in his own obsession with Tucker Crowe, a Dylan-esque recluse that has been silent for 20 years. Duncan has an online community where he is the guru on Tucker Crowe, when he wasn't that big of a performer to begin with. Evidently, Crowe had some sort of epiphany in a Minnesota bar bathroom, supposedly, that caused this 20 year hiatus. In the meantime Annie disagrees with Duncan's obsession and writes her own review of a bootleg copy of an acoustic, raw version of Tucker's hit "Juliet." Annie and Duncan have been in a 15 year relationship that has been going nowhere, Duncan has an affair and the affair breaks up. This coincides with the ending of Crowe's relationship, and the meeting(s) of one of his five children. Crowe finds himself in London when one of his daughters is in distress, and has a heart attack. I really didn't do the book justice, because it is just that amazing. You will have to read the book to find out what happens. This books is creative and original.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 5, 2010
Nick Hornby, the pop music novelist of the 80s generation, has done it again! "Juliet Naked" tells the fictional story of a retired eighties music icon, the faraway girlfriend of an obsessed fan, and what happens when they meet.
Horby is a master at creating interesting, offbeat characters. This novel is no exception. Although the characters are quirky, they are sympathetic because he adds endearing, realistic qualities.
While the story is not a page-turner at first, as the reader gets to know the characters, the story moves along at a good pace. I finished this book in one day.
Horby is great at visuals. I am looking forward to a film adaptation!
I would recommend this novel to bookclubs and individual readers alike. The issues about relationships, artists, success and fear of failure, and intimacy are prime for discussion.
Posted April 24, 2010
I bought this for a trip from the east to west coast, and it was suitable for that venture. At that moment, I could relate to the synopsis on the book jacket, being a middle-aged woman flying west to visit with an aging rocker friend. The story is nothing spectacular...basically a quick read if you have nothing else. The story moves along, but it's not remarkable...and even a bit predictable. The writing style is not challenging, and the characters are sort of treacly and flat.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 22, 2010
Nick Hornby is one of my favorite authors, so when I saw Juliet, Naked I picked it up right away. I was disappointed by this one and had a very hard time getting through it. I travel a lot, so only took it on the plane to read and ended up putting it down because it just didn't grab me. I was determined however, to see it through to the end and finally completed it four months after first picking it up.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
He just gets it. All of his books have interesting plots, characters and twists. I especially loved this one and the fact he used the names "Tucker Crowe" and "Jackson Crowe" as two of the lead characters in the book - very ironic on a book about aging rockers that had a small following. The story moved along so easily and without the usual hiccups as in some other novels that I couldn't put it down and read it in one sitting. From beginning to end so very satisfying. I receommend it to anyone.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Nick has continued to perpetuate his legend once again. His flawless prose and ceaseless creativity results in yet another masterpiece. His ability to develop relatable, loveable, hopelessly romantic, and above all, darkly comedic characters has a draw for almost any reader. Juliet, Naked is an examination of how regret over paths not taken, enthusiansm over the unimportant, and pure old fashioned chance, all play a part in discovering who we are cabable of being, not who we already are.
Posted November 23, 2009
I think by this point, most readers are already Nick Hornby fans, but I have been recommending the book out to those who are not in the know, although, I think A Long Way Down is a better "first time" for Hornby virgins. This book had all the great Hornbyisms..the sarcasim, constant internal struggles of self understanding, and an understated hipness. He sees things for what they really are and his characters are so real because of it.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 21, 2009
I've read of all of Nick Hornby's books, and the film version of "High Fidelity" is my favorite movie of all time, so when I heard Horby was releasing another music-themed book, I was ecstatic. It was not quite what I expected, but once again Horny's grasp of relationships and human behavior is spell-binding and hilarious, with a touch of painful reality at times, too. Definitely check out "Juliet Naked" if you're a Hornby fan!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 21, 2009
Hornby is one of the authors I always enjoy, and I got "Juliet, Naked" as soon as I saw it at B&N. It was good, but not great, not what I've come to expect from Hornby. Also, it's on the short side, so it's a pretty quick read. I enjoyed the book -- interesting situations, quirky characters -- but overall I was a bit disappointed.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 22, 2009
This was great reading. Couldnt put it down, and liked the way it didnt have a begining, middle, end. Especially a sissy ending. It was like how you try to tell a story about a person to someone who has no clue about this person.
It was REAL!!