By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
For his part, Marcus lends substance a to the otherwise shallow and empty-lived Will, which becomes especially important when, at a New Year's Eve party, Will falls in love - suddenly and completely - with a woman named Rachel. As it turns out, Rachel, with whom Will would otherwise have nothing in common, has a son about Marcus' age. And Will, who's avoided feeling anything resembling love in the entire expanse of his adult life, finds himself stumbling blindly in Rachel's direction, using Marcus as his reluctant prop.
Unfortunately, it's with the introduction of Rachel that About a Boy, which started to unravel as each new character drifted further from Hornby himself, becomes less of an amusing portrait of the intimacy-impaired and more of a self-conscious work of romantic fiction. Rachel illustrates children's books, looks "a little bit like Laura Nyro on the cover of Gonna Take a Miracle - nervy, glamorous, bohemian, clever, lots of long, unruly dark hair." She does not, so far as Hornby lets us know, lose her temper, make fun of fat people, eat noisily or treat waitpeople rudely. She does not judge him harshly, even though she probably should; she feels no jealousy about other women in his life and, in fact, benevolently sets him up for a long talk with Fiona for the benefit of Marcus. She, like Suzie from SPAT, is in every way above reproach, and consequently, above reality.
Strangely, for a man who writes about men with such emotional acuity, Hornby has no clue how to write a realistic woman. He clearly admires them, loves them, respects them: In Hornby's world of gender politics, attractive women almost always call the shots, and the good ones - which is to say, most of them - keep their lives afloat against all odds when the men around them fall apart despite every advantage. They rarely lie without irresistible provocation; they have delicate crow's-feet and beautiful hair and hearts full of generosity and love. The rare bad ones - impossibly desperate Fiona, the renegade teenage Ellie - are laughable cartoons (but even at that, they got that way because they were victimized by irresponsible dads). Hornby doesn't allow us to feel for them; from Will's point of view, they're mere foils in the game.
Which would be fine if About a Boy followed the lead of High Fidelity, where Rob sorts through the detritus of his love life, effecting reunions with every single ex-girlfriend from puberty on up; the women in that book remained peripheral, deliberately crystallized memories or caricatures - a recent shadow of a lost love, a glamorous college art-girl sweetheart, a hilarious American folk singer who talks too frankly about casual sex. But About a Boy makes women central, important, active, and at the same time robs them of any power they have to screw up a relationship on their own. And though it absolves women of responsibility for making a mess of the world, it also takes away the invitation to commiseration that High Fidelity offered by assuring women that men suffer as women do, even if it doesn't look like it from the outside. Instead of proving that it takes two to play the love game so pathetically, About a Boy sets out to show that it's all the man's fault. Even in a comic story of an overgrown adolescent learning to love, truth should be a lot more interesting than that.