Thursday, September 8, 2011

Slam, by Nick Hornby

One wonders if Nick Hornby has a son just cresting adolescence...

This is a cautionary tale, though one which recognizes that no amount of warning, or even personal experience, can keep a teenager from making a life-changingly stupid mistake. That knowledge will, of course, never keep adults from trying to protect their children. Stop here if you can't abide spoilers; there is no way to talk about this book without revealing the big event in its midst.

Sam's mother was sixteen when he was born. Now thirty-two, she likes to compare herself, age wise, with celebrities (four years younger than Jennifer Aniston, three years older than David Beckham). They're doing pretty well, but Sam is well aware that his appearance threw a spanner in his mother's plans. Or perhaps just kept her from making any. But teens will be teens, and soon Sam finds himself in love. And soon enough, his girlfriend finds herself pregnant. And history repeats itself.

The greatest thing about this book is Sam's voice. He has a couple of moments of great maturity and insight, but primarily he's a dumb kid, more interested in skateboarding than anything that could be called a future. Like most of Hornby's heroes, he's a fairly self-absorbed, not particularly self-aware guy who vaguely wonders why the women in his life are making all the rules. He's trying to do the right thing, but it is painfully obvious that he is a child himself. I can't quite imagine what it would be like to face the prospect of teenage fatherhood, but this seems to me to be a pretty dead-on description.

There's a little class warfare thrown into the book for good measure: Sam has knocked up the daughter of a pair of university professors, who squarely blame him for dragging her into the ghetto of teen pregnancy. No one outside of the families seems exceptionally surprised or upset about the situation; in fact the high school administration are thrilled to try our their new teen mother program.

A couple of unusual plot devices keep the story moving in a zig-zag - it's not quite clear where its going to end up. The ending is a little anticlimactic, as is childbirth. After all of that preparation and anxiety, taking care of an infant is exhausting drudgery, if physically enlightening and emotionally stratospheric. Although it's fascinating to live through, it's a little less interesting to read about.

Overall, very good, an easy page-turner, an interesting perspective on a situation we all hope we don't have to get experience first, or even second-hand.