Nick Hornby is a prolific writer—novels, screenplays, nonfiction—he does it all, and he’s good at all of it. His debut novel, High Fidelity, was made into a terrific hit movie by the same name many years ago, and he’s seemingly never looked back or questioned his ability to pull off any crazy idea.
His latest novel, Just Like You, is another unlikely love story, this one between a young black man who pinch-hits for a middle-aged white woman’s regular babysitter, and they fall in love. Well, a sort of love anyway—they certainly care about each other—but both are fully cognizant of the likelihood that it can’t last forever. Few writers would even attempt to pull this off, but Hornby is fearless, perhaps because he’s so prolific it may sometimes seem he’s already done everything else. Or maybe he just loves a challenge.
He has one here, to be sure. But from their chance encounter at one of Joseph’s several part-time jobs, this one behind the counter at a butcher shop, Lucy hires him to watch the kids one evening when her ex is unavailable. They stay and talk when she returns, and the kids want him back as much as Lucy does; he’s good for them, and she sees that. The writing has the look of all good fiction: Characters are drawn and put in motion, and Hornby watches what transpires and follows the truth as it goes down on the page. He would seem absolutely fearless if one thought of him at all, but only reviewers would bother with all that; to a reader, the words on the page and the story they tell just seem like the truth at every turn.
When Lucy has a long talk with a friend who’s having trouble finding someone, she says of her new circumstances with Joseph:
“I suppose you could call him a family friend. But really. That’s all I want to say. And it’s not going anywhere. We’re just . . . keeping each other company until something else happens.”
“That’s what I want! Exactly that!”
It may be what you want, Lucy thought, but it isn’t what you need. You need books, music, maybe God. But some guy in between wives isn’t going to do much for you.
But isn’t this what Joseph is for Lucy? Not exactly, because Lucy has books and music, and wasn’t looking for this relationship when it happened. But the point is well made and keeps us all thinking. Hornby always keeps us thinking, in all his books.
Including their endings. Here we get an ending that is so true—Hornby doesn’t shrink from the truth—it proves his bona fides as a novelist. Of course, it’s not to be given away in any review.
Matthew Geyer is the author of two novels, Strays (2008) and Atlantic View (2020). .