But Is It Good?

Having read — contemporaneously! — and very much enjoyed Nick Hornby's High Fidelity, I assumed his Fever Pitch memoir was a hard-earned reward for pumping out such a successful novel. It turns out that Pitch precedes Fidelity by three years. And not only that but it's basically his debut, which, after reading, makes you kind of scratch your head.

Just to be clear, the conceit of Fever Pitch is that Hornby traces his life as a soccer fan via every single match he'd ever seen. Or at least it seems that way. And it's not done in the sort of soft-pedaled frilly version where Jimmy Fallon watches a bunch of Red Sox games which become the background to his actual life. No, it's serious: every fucking goddamn match. In great detail. By an obsessive person who, at least if the in-book persona is accurate, blocks out the rest of life to focus on soccer. Which is to say, much is written about soccer.

Some of which is interesting, other stuff kind of passes by in a blur and not a whole lot about soccer sticks out. For example, a while back I had heard a description of how exhilarating it is to witness a team coming back from a 1-0 deficit to win 2-1; it was couched in terms of something along the lines of the entire stadium having an orgasm at the same time; this was a provocative and instructional symbol, for as an American sports fan who watches games that provide many more opportunities to score, therefore had never thought of these kinds of moments. It stuck with me and I assumed IN WAS IN THIS FUCKING BOOK. Alas, it's not and I can't figure out where it comes from. But stuff like that makes soccer come alive, or would seem to, and Pitch never quite gets there.

Fever does succeed at making obsessive fandom seem really unbecoming. Especially later in the book where he comes to terms with the underbelly of British football — Hillsborough, Heysel ("I like to think I have an answer for most irrationalities connected with football, but this one seems to defy all explanation"), the racism — it just sounds weirdly inhuman and OCD in that he acknowledges and moves on, rather quickly and expediently. Not that that's not the truth in the scheme of his life but more like what attracted people to this book in the first place?

High Fidelity addressed the same themes — obsessive behavior, male psyche — but that book softened, explained, drew you in and humanized the characters (at least to my twenty-plus-year memory of the book). Fever Pitch, on the other hand, just makes you scratch your head. There's a point later in the book where the persona begs off of a very small birthday dinner because Arsenal is playing some match; it's less cute than pathetic; and I say this as a moderate-to-high sports fan.


Elsewhere I heard or read that Pitch played a role in effectively gentrifying British football. Interesting and a seemingly outsized influence, until I remember hearing Hornby positing to Terry Gross on Fresh Air way back in 1995 to an impressionable post-grad that deep down men felt an inescapable urge to categorize things and funnel them into top-five lists. Today, I don't think this is true, but it has stuck up there in my head for quite some time . . .

Posted: April 4th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Books Are The SUVs Of Writing | Tags: , ,