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Summer Reading: High Fidelity

A book review! Trying something new with writing in the blog today.

An admission: I’ve only seen High Fidelity, the film, once and I did not believe it to be the tour de force that some friends had made it out to be. Perhaps I was too young for it then—even though, okay, it was only about a year and a half ago.

But now! I’ve been single for quite some time, recently hanging out with a group of friends whose median age is give or take one decade older than my own (although this is probably moot because, for better or worse, I’m very often mistaken for at least five years older than my actual age), and suddenly dealing with the mythos of “having a career” and “getting old(er)”—and maybe this is exactly the “mature” (is it possible to put emphasis on quotation marks?) perspective and angle that one should consume High Fidelity from. Or not, but at the very least picking it out in book form seems pretty well-timed for where I am in my life. (And run-on sentence, much? Yeah, deal with it.)

(I think I have a propensity for “accidentally” picking out books that are “well-timed for where I am in my life.” Ever try a solo, cross-country drive, going through the parts of Western Montana and the Inland Northwest while reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance? Maybe my own philosophical tendencies blow that one out of proportion and maybe I just have a knack for picking out parts of stories that I most deeply relate to. But still.)

So the über generalized plot of “girlfriend breaks up with guy, guy goes off to figure himself out” isn’t that creative at all, alright. But there’s something about the execution of the novel—from the heaps and heaps of pop culture references, to the rambly internal monologue, to the snarky, self-deprecating sense of humor—that makes it stand solid as a contemporary rocky relationship story. I tried hard to avoid saying love story or romance because that’s so far from what the book is—and that characteristic is, I think, what makes it feel so real and modern. (Even moreso than the copious 90’s movie and music references.)

There’s a bit of deus ex machina that happens with a death, a funeral, and “oh, let’s get back together because I’m so tired of working so hard at being with someone else and making myself miserable for it.” But I let it slide because, hey, strange shit like that happens in real life sometimes; relationships do have that transient quality to them that lead them to go back and forth in strange times. And disaster, indeed has a way of making the unlikely happen. It might not seem perfect from a storytelling standpoint, but eh, I’m OK with that.

I don’t think I could have appreciated the overwhelming amount of snarky, self-deprecating humor a couple years ago. (But I'm all about it now, though I'm not that way myself. A lot of my favorite people have those qualities which some people misconstrue as abrasive but I find hilarious.) But in general, over the past decade our society’s shifted more and more to accepting (often offbeat) satire, parody, and snarkiness as the status quo in humor and entertainment. (Indeed, I had a conversation last night in which it was pretty much agreed on that the live action version of The Tick would have been more successful today than it was eight years ago.) I wasn’t very old in the 90’s so I can’t really say much about the relevance of the of sense of humor back then, but I think it’s as relevant now as it’s ever been. (Although it might be a British thing that’s only recently grown on us—the sense of humor, I mean. We imported Monty Python from there and that’s pretty much the classical bar for snarky, tongue-in-cheek TV, isn’t it? And the Hitchhiker’s Guide novels? And The Office?)

Oh, and the pop culture references?—“…looking like Susan Dey in L.A. Law” “…the Meg Ryan of Sleepless in Seattle” “…We’re like Tom Hanks in Big. Little boys and girls trapped in adult bodies…”—all had their place. It was more than just name dropping: every analogy painted a very specific—and modern!—picture of the given characters or situations, much more than a billion adjectives could have done.

Near the end I started to feel that, if a book like High Fidelity were to be written today, in 2009, it would undeniably have to reference “John Cusack in High Fidelity” in very much the same way. In fact, I’ve heard people use that exact same analogy to describe parts of their lives. Like every pop culture reference in the novel (though now some of them are becoming dated), it’s a kind of hip, yet subtle cultural touchstone that you can’t help but relate to and relate through (in using it as an analogy).

Weird how that works out.

Okay, okay. To everybody who absolutely adores that movie, I think I get it now. (Though, as is common these days, the book was better.) I may forget the story entirely by next week, but there’s a part that struck a chord with me that’ll probably stick with me just for that one time I end up saying “like the main character in High Fidelity,” when in conversation. And, to it’s credit, I thoroughly enjoyed it—few books make me chuckle out loud while reading. (Nor do they ever compel me to up and review ’em.)

It wasn’t a landmark, historic book for the ages, but—as if a breath of fresh air—it just felt damn good to read.