A story about a heartbroken, self-absorbed, self-deprecating music geek who lives off an unhealthy appetite for women and vintage vinyl… Like I told everyone the day I discovered this book, it’s the story of my life!
Generally, High Fidelity is viewed as a dude’s book. Sure, I’ve known plenty of women who love Nick Hornby as much as men, but I think High Fidelity may push the limits when it comes to gender and literary preferences. It’s not that Rob Gordon, the novel’s central character and narrator, is a sexist or is particularly demeaning. I believe it’s simply that Rob encompasses nearly everything in a man that women find incredibly irritating. A lovable man in his own right, but irritating nonetheless. Rob is a guy who has zero interest in mingling at dinner parties or hobnobbing with careerists whose ghastly taste in music includes the likes of Carly Simon and Peter Frampton, (unspeakable crimes in his mind). For 36 years, Rob has managed to shield himself from the hideous life of adults by living within his sanctimonious inner-world of music, daydreams, and a steady flow of girlfriends, (until they inevitably tire of him).
Rob’s latest longtime girlfriend, Laura, has grown up, gotten a job, and traded her leather jacket for business casual, whereas Rob still spends his days working in his failing record store, milling about in dirty jeans, grumbling and dreaming up Top Five lists for just about anything he can imagine; his top record singles of all time, his top five movies, top five dream jobs, etc. (Incidentally, Rob’s top five records of all time: 1. “Let’s Get It On” – Marvin Gaye, 2. “This Is the House That Jack Built” – Aretha Franklin, 3. “Back in the USA” – Chuck Berry, 4. “In Hammersmith Palais” – The Clash, 5. “Tired of Being Alone” by Al Green).
But when it comes to his lists, it’s Rob’s top five break-ups, (which naturally comes to include Laura), that are the main focus to this story. This unsuspected change in Rob’s creature-comfort life leads him into a complete state of disarray, wondering how things went wrong for him, when it all started, and eventually, what he can do to change and make things right. For men, there will be plenty of tender, relative moments that strike you straight to the core, forcing you to reevaluate your sense of dignity and also what it is that you ultimately want out of life. For women, you will gain a keen insight into the minds of men…
Still, High Fidelity is far from the sapfest it could all-too easily become. This book contains a fine balance of soul searching, romantic tenderness, and of course, moments of sheer hilarity, typically in the guise of the music-snob employees at Rob’s record store, (Barry in particular, who was masterfully played by Jack Black in the film version). Barry’s hipster jibes, along with Rob’s general malaise, will definitely bring the laughs, but it is Rob’s fateful crash ride into adulthood and self realization that ultimately shines. However, be forewarned that after reading this one, you may end up with a complex over your music collection and get the urge for some serious vinyl splurging, (or at least that’s what happened to me).
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