Wednesday, March 12, 2014
All about boys
The current generation has a lot of male authors trying to explore and understand modern masculinity. On one side of the coin we have stories like Fight Club, where men try to regain some kind of primal prominence; on the other side of the coin we have books like High Fidelity, where men ask questions and make mistakes and try to be less of an asshole in the end. Nick Hornby wrote High Fidelity, and About A Boy, two books I like quite a lot that were adapted into movies that I appreciate even more.
Slam is a later Hornby book but it follows what I know of his pattern pretty well. It focuses on Sam, a highschooler, and the ways in which he doesn't understand the world. Sam is cool but quiet, a skater (skateboarding, not ice-skating, Sam would be sure to let you know) who manages to pull a pretty hot girlfriend and be a bit of an idiot.
The book has an interesting troop of characters, almost all of whom manage to be likeable in spite of their flaws (the hot girlfriend's parents are the only really unlikeable people in the book). Sam is a charming fuckup, as is his mother. Their relationship is by far the most interesting thing going on throughout the story. Every few pages there are some wonderful comedy gems scattered in the narration - Sam's encounter with a grumpy old man that sends him back home after running away stands out as a good example, as does every conversation with Sam's dumber than rocks friend Rabbit.
I'm starting to think that we, as a society, could start to use Hornby's work as didactic instruction for teens and young people the world over. Three hundred years ago the girl-in-trouble genre was tremendously popular and was used to teach young people how absolutely they could fuck their lives up if they didn't follow the rules of their society; Hornby's novels seem to show that all the rules of a society are a bit silly, we all fuck up somehow or another, but it doesn't really matter because most of us are okay in the end. There are no startlingly happy endings in any of Hornby's "male confessional" novels - things just end up ok, not ecstatic. I like that, and I think it's something that we really should teach: yes, you will make mistakes; yes, you will be unforgivably stupid sometimes; no, you're life won't be perfect; no, just because it's not perfect it won't be terrible either; everything will just sort of be okay.
Slam isn't a great book, but it's plenty entertaining. It's about boys and how they deal with life, and a little bit about girls and the expectations that society has for them too. It's funny and sweet and sometimes sad - a good diversion for an afternoon.
Hornby, Nick. Slam. Penguin. New York: New York. 2007.