What's All This Then?

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What's All This Then?

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High Fidelity
by Nick Hornby

Field-Tested by Peter Anderson

on his honeymoon in Alaska

While on my honeymoon, fourteen years ago in Alaska, I read two books: The Killer Inside Me by Jim Thompson and High Fidelity by Nick Hornby. Of course, Thompson’s sordid tale of psychopathic murder and mayhem in no way echoed or impacted either my honeymoon or marriage (thank goodness) but High Fidelity turned out to be the perfect book to read at that moment in my life. Because, even more than the pop culture, humor and list—making obsession it is best known for, High Fidelity is about commitment: about figuring out what you want in life, getting it and sticking with it, no matter what other diversions might come along. The thirtysomething protagonist, Rob Fleming, spends most of the book avoiding commitment to his longtime, endlessly patient girlfriend Laura. He fears losing his freedom, not realizing that what appears to be freedom is often nothing more than pointless meandering.

Near the end of the book, Rob again yields to the wandering eye, flirting with a young newspaper reporter named Caroline. Though she meets him mostly to conduct an interview, he quickly develops a crush on her. He promises to make her a mixtape of his favorite songs (as Rob says, "She (Laura) of all people knows what compilation tapes represent"; that is, an early—relationship come—on) and arranges to meet again, this time for drinks. As he ponders their date, he soberly realizes its implications for his relationship with Laura, but is still drawn to the temptation and newness of Caroline. He seems on the brink of destroying everything he has with Laura, all for yet another dalliance with yet another woman.

As I read this passage one lazy afternoon, in a wilderness cabin deep within Denali National Park, I actually exclaimed aloud, "No, don’t do it, Rob!" When my wife looked up from her own reading in surprise, I smiled and said I couldn’t really explain my outburst, but that she would just have to read the book. As Rob made his fateful decision a few pages later and the story ended, I felt incredibly grateful and fortunate to be spending that afternoon in that cozy cabin in the middle of nowhere with my soulmate, the great gift I earned by making the biggest commitment of my life.

Peter Anderson is a Chicago-area writer who runs the blog Pete Lit. His debut novel is Wheatyard.

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