Thursday, December 3, 2009

Favorite Passages: About a Boy, by Nick Hornby

Because I am going down to my alma mater to have some awesome adventures with some of my awesome friends, I am in a very good mood. Hence, this week's Favorite Passage being from one of my favorite funny books: Nick Hornby's About a Boy. I'm sure most of you have seen the movie, which is surprisingly good for a book-adaptation, but know this: The book is a hundred times better. It's funny and sad and sweet all at once, with Hornby's prose (much like Pete Dexter's) shifting from laughter to tears in two words. This passage, from the middle of the book, occurs as the main character, Will, is driving and spots Marcus, the pathetic boy to whom he's become a kind of unwilling mentor.

From About a Boy, by Nick Hornby:

Will loved driving around London. He loved the traffic, which allowed him to believe he was a man in a hurry and offered him rare opportunities for frustration and anger (other people did things to let off steam, but Will had to do things to build it up); he loved knowing his way around; he loved being swallowed up in the city's life. You didn't need a job or a family to drive around London; you only needed a car, and Will had a car. Sometimes he drove just for the hell of it, and sometimes he drove because he liked to hear music played at a volume that would not be possible in the flat without a furious knock on the door or the wall or the ceiling.

Today he had convinced himself that he had to drive to Waitrose, but if he was honest the real reason for the trip was that he wanted to sing along to "Nevermind" at the top of his voice, and he couldn't do that at home. He loved Nirvana, but at his age they were kind of a guilty pleasure. All that rage and pain and self-hatred! Will got a bit...fed up sometimes, but he couldn't pretend it was anything stronger than that. So now he used loud angry rock music as a replacement for real feelings, rather than as an expression of them, and he didn't even mind very much. What good were real feelings anyway?

The cassette had just turned itself over when he saw Marcus ambling down Upper Street. He hadn't seen him since the day of the sneakers, nor had he wanted to see him particularly, but he suddenly felt a a little surge of affection for him. Marcus was so locked into himself, so oblivious to everyone and everything, that affection seemed to be the only possible response: the boy somehow seemed to be asking for absolutely nothing and absolutely everything all at the same time.

The affection that Will felt was not acute enough to make him want to stop the car, or even toot: he had discovered that it was much easier to sustain one's fondness for Marcus if one just kept one's foot down, literally and metaphorically. But it was funny, seeing him out in the street in broad daylight, wandering aimlessly...Something nagged at him. Why was it funny? Because Will had never seen Marcus in broad daylight before. He had only previously seen him in the gloom of winter afternoon. And why had he only seen him in the gloom of a winter afternoon? Because Marcus only came round after school. But it was just after two o'clock. Marcus should be in school now. Bollocks.

Will wrestled with his conscience, grappled it to the ground and sat on it until he couldn't hear a squeak out of it. Why should he care if Marcus went to school or not? OK, wrong question. He knew very well why he should care whether Marcus went to school. Try a different question: How much did he care whether Marcus went to school or not? Answer: not a lot. That was better. He drove home.

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