OneMansView, December 29, 2010
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Don’t settle for a careful life (3.5*s)
This melancholic novel is set mostly in an out-of-the-way northern England, seaside town and is driven by a cultish regard for a music album JULIET produced in the 80s by the little-known, American musician Tucker Crowe, who has quite literally disappeared for all these years. The book opens with Duncan, by profession, a teacher in England, and his longtime live-in girlfriend Annie, a museum curator, visiting places (shrines in his eyes) frequented in the US by Crowe, including his birthplace and, most bizarrely, a filthy restroom in a bar in Minneapolis where Crowe apparently made an abrupt decision to quit the music business. Duncan, in his preferred life, operates a web site devoted only to Crowe and is considered to be the world’s foremost expert on Crowe: his every utterance, the hidden meanings in his songs, his current appearance and location, etc.
But this neatly tied up area of expertise is unexpectedly undermined with the release of never heard raw cuts of Juliet, dubbed, Juliet, Naked. Duncan, rushing to control the spin on this latest revelation concerning Crowe, declares the tracks to be vastly superior to the final product, much to Annie’s dismay. She increasingly sees Duncan’s fixation on Crowe as symptomatic of her predicable, uneventful life. She posts a well-received, contrary view of the new release on the Crowe website, which, unbelievably so, is privately answered by Crowe.
Their email exchanges are at first guarded (first merely verifying authenticity), but a tentative relationship starts to form somewhat based on their mutual recognition that large chunks of their lives have been mostly a waste. In the case of Tucker, his many failed relationships have produced five children, none of whom he really knows except for six-year-old Jackson who lives with him. He is basically broke, living off of his estranged wife Cat, with few prospects. Coincidentally, the miscarriage of one of his daughters brings him to London. Annie is upset when Tucker fails to meet at their agreed-to spot, until she learns that a medical incident has landed him in a London hospital. Eventually, despite a certain amount of awkwardness and hesitancies, mostly on the part of Annie, Tucker and Jackson secretly leave the hospital with Annie and return to her home on the coast, Duncan having left over their tiff concerning Juliet, Naked.
Despite the overall story line of the book being rather implausible, the regrets of wasting lives on narrow obsessions, in lieu of experiencing full lives are palpable. Her basically asexual life with Duncan is especially distressing to Annie, although she hardly aspires to being a slut. Though the author is generally sympathetic towards all of the characters, many of them are rather stunted. Duncan is unusually tone-deaf about life and the withdrawal and reclusiveness of Tucker never make much sense. An annoying aspect of the book is the too-smart dialog of the very young Jackson. There are no story-book endings here, but Annie has had the courage to dig herself out of the quicksand with at least some promise of forging a more fulfilling life from this point.