Two books and two voices


I finished Truman Capote’s novella, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and made my way to the next book in my need-to-read-this stack, Nick Hornby’s Juliet, Naked. I’d read Capote before and knew a bit about his writing. What I knew of Hornby was that I’m interested in many of the same subjects and jealous of his career.

Juliet, Naked turns out to be, thus far, a possible companion to my short story, “Relics.” It tells, among other things, the tale of an ex-rocker from the 80s (“Relics” dealt with a 70s rock icon as understood by his son). Perhaps I’ve delayed reading Hornby because I’m afraid my other ideas and stories will be companion pieces. With him the published author and me the weekend rambler, I would be seen as the copyist. Instead, I think we just breathe some of the same pop culture air. However, though I love his subjects, Hornby’s writing (so far) bores me.
Perhaps this would happen for any writer whose reader is rebounding from Capote. Capote is a talent. He’s a brilliant and remarkable master, and to compare most writers to him is an injustice. Still, the Capote-Hornby juxtaposition seemed to take the life out of Hornby.

It’s in the writing. Capote’s words bounce and brim with energy. They intersect and move into perfect sentences, perfectly-timed sentences — sentences that form a symphonic connection with all the other sentences. Hornby’s sentences are perfectly adequate. They contain the necessary information and maintain a professional, platonic relationship with one another. There’s no music. There’s no warmth or magic. Hornby’s writing seems functional, almost as if he’s writing with the film adaptation in mind: the book as a means to another end.

Perhaps one of the differences is voicing. Breakfast at Tiffany’s is in first-person while most of Juliet, Naked is third-person — that casual omniscient: a scribe who records dialogue then jumps into a character’s head for a moment of pop analysis. Hornby can pull off the first-person, and — as in the case of a character’s e-mail — it seems to give his writing more personality. But that third person, at least in this book, is superficial. It’s the voice of a writer writing, not the music and language of a storyteller telling a story. Functional.
Writing is hard work, and, even with some disappointment with Hornby, I’ll keep reading. I’ll even continue to be jealous of Hornby’s career. However, I’m more jealous of Capote’s writing.

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