A literary satire about suicide? Yeah, that's like a theatrical comic farce based on the Salem Witch Trials. And yet, both exist. The play is Safe in Hell by Amy Freed, but that's not the point here--we'll get to it one day, maybe. The book, however, A Long Way Down (Riverhead Trade, May 2006) is the fourth novel by Nick Hornby, the same writer who brought us High Fidelity, About A Boy and Fever Pitch (those were the books he wrote that Hollywood cashed in on, just for reference sake).
A Long Way Down's story begins on New Year's Eve, a night of resolutions and new beginnings. The characters are a motley group: Maureen, an older women worn from years of taking care of her disabled son; Martin, a morning show host whose not-so-moral indiscretions have left him publicly humiliated; Jess, a confused, smart-ass teenage daughter of a government minister whose boyfriend left her; and JJ, an American wannabe rock star whose band is dead, leaving him to deliver pizza and contemplate his failures. They all meet New Year's Eve at Topper's House, a place known as the place for the suicidal to jump to their deaths.
How does Hornby pull of this feat of making a comedy out of suicide? Easily. The writing seems almost simplistic, and it isn't until readers are wrapped in the middle of the book that they realize the depth of his poise and poetry amid the laugh-out-loud moments.
The story is told simultaneously by each character, causing the work to move in a very interesting forward motion. Often, when four characters end up telling the same story, the story has a way of collapsing on itself. Not so here. The telling seems to take wing, and no two people tell the same story here. Each character is pressed to find the truth, and answer difficult questions like: Why do you want to die, among others. And inevitably, they band together.
Hornby effortlessly pulls off such a morbid topic and creates characters who are believable and sympathetic. His fans expected no less. Hornby has been known for his witty, fast-paced, pop-culture-laden works. Although he is an English writer, we won't hold that against him> I've often wondered if you have to have some sense of English humor in order to understand where he is coming from. Like they say, America and England are two countries separated by a common language. (Something about "through" and "thru.") Nevertheless, Hornby has the ability to reach across to his readers, regardless of their current continent.
One reviewer said this book was a twisted grown up version of The Breakfast Club. I like to think it's a bit more like The Golden Girls meets Scrubs meets The Today Show, only with even better writers.
If you're a Hornby fan, this book doesn't disappoint. It would be a good book to read before Hollywood gets a hold of it and makes it into another movie.