There is something funny about doing this, posting a review of Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby on the Internet, an act that is at the crux of his sixth novel.
Annie and Duncan live in a sleepy town in Northern England and are in a relationship that is stuck on autopilot. Annie isn’t feeling so much hearts and flowers as “a school chum who’d come to visit in the holidays and stayed for the next twenty years.” Duncan’s entire being centers on an obscure singer/songwriter named Tucker Crowe, who walked out of the music biz under curious circumstances and became a recluse.
Duncan considers himself a “Crowologist,” and runs a sausage-fest fan-site that is filled with little news, and lots of speculation about the artist and deconstruction of every lyric he ever wrote. The fan-favorite is his final album, “Juliet,” the greatest break-up album of all time, written for a model Crowe had a fling with in the late 80s. It is the sort of record that surpasses “Blood on the Tracks.”
The couple has just returned from a Crowe-centric pilgrimage to America, where they traced the musician’s history: The bathroom in a Minneapolis bar where Crowe seemingly made the decision to end his career, and to the home of Crowe’s model muse, where he allegedly threw rocks at her window and begged her to come back to him.
Back home, Duncan receives a copy of “Juliet, Naked,” an unreleased, stripped down version of Crowe’s best work. He listens to it, weeps, and writes a dramatic and glowing review of it on his website. The review annoys Annie, who thinks this unplugged version is weak and incomplete. She posts a dueling review that sends Duncan reeling straight into the arms of a sassy colleague, and Annie into regret over how she spent the past 15 years.
Tucker Crowe sees Annie’s review, appreciates her take on the album, and begins an email correspondence with her. Tucker Crowe, it turns out, isn’t the scraggly-haired Grizzly Adams that his fans think he is. He’s a Little League dad, rich in ex-wives and ignored children — except one. Jackson. A six-year-old hypochondriac, who is Tucker’s last chance to redeem himself at the fatherhood thing.
This novel is adorable, although the latter third of the book is a little meh and feels a bit lopped off. If there is one thing Hornby does well, it is fan-fest satire. The last two books I read by him were real clunkers: How to Be Good and A Long Way Down. This is as delicious as About a Boy and Fever Pitch and High Fidelity. A slow stroll with geeked out characters. The story is quietly funny with some great lines. Unfortunately, the highly likable Annie turns into an annoying and needy shrew when she finally meets Tucker Crowe, something that doesn’t seem intentional.
In this case, I think the good parts are good enough to justify reading it. Hornby builds enough momentum early on to counteract the fizzle.