by Andy AbramowitzHardcover, 338 pg.
Read: June 30 – July 3, 2015
In most instances, space between people grows like mold, neglected just long enough to be noticed. You intended to wipe it clean, but the more of it there is, the more daunting a task it becomes to erase it. Not so with me and the band. I’d discontinued those people as if they were a premium cable channel that I’d finally realized was broadcasting nothing I wanted to watch.
From passages like that, a nice mix of thoughtful, sentimental, with a bit of a grin; to the out-and-out funny, like the funniest suicide attempt I’ve read in a long time, possibly ever (something worthy Save Steve Holland’s Lane Myer, but longer); this book covers the spectrum. Not only covers it, but does so with assurance and panache. It’s one of those first novels that makes you wonder what could possibly be done as a follow up.
Teddy Tremble is a successful enough lawyer for someone who’s heart isn’t really in it, while still being good at it. He’s sort of coasting through life — being good enough at his job, good enough with his girlfriend of forever, good enough for his social circle, but not good enough for his father (but after meeting him, you understand that’s just a given). He’s forty-ish and realizes that life is going to pretty much stay this way. On the whole, he seems okay with that — but in the back of his mind he knows he’s not. He won an Academy Award. His band was huge for a little while in the 1990’s, before his hubris ruined things. Sure, things are good enough now, but once upon a time they were great.
Then through a truly humbling and bewildering set of circumstances, Teddy comes across a group of huge Tremble fans. Seriously, die-hard doesn’t begin to describe these people. Think something akin to the kind of people that organized the first Star Trek convention back when it wasn’t a cultural phenomenon, just a short-lived and then canceled show. This changes everything. The adulation, the attention, the satisfaction of performing gets under his skin and he starts writing music for the first time in a long time.
Pretty soon, he’s (forgive the cliché) trying to get the band back together — his agent and producer are on board, convinced that what he’s written exceeds his former quality. Incidentally, both of these characters are the kind that we readers hope to come across — supporting characters that threaten to steal the entire novel, but when used properly just make the whole thing better.
Anyway, with these two on board — Teddy just has to convince the rest of the band to give it a shot, to trust him. Maybe even to forgive him for what he did to them so long ago. Then he has to convince music fans to take them seriously. Neither of these tasks is going to be easy. Both are practically impossible, really.
The book starts out as pretty entertaining, definitely amusing. But it doesn’t stop there — it gets better, deeper, emotionally richer all the while. By the time I got to (and through) Chapter 20, I tweeted that, “Not sure I need to read another word (am going to), but that was as close to perfect as it gets.” I’m still thinking about it a month later.
At various places through the novel, Teddy observes: “One day I’ll die, and this will be one of the things I did with my time.” I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen one sentence used so many different ways with so many different meanings depending on the context. Sometimes he’s says it wryly, sometimes caustically, sometimes wistfully, sometimes with pride. It’s one of those writerly things that when you see it in action, you wonder why more people don’t try it.
Each of these characters — the agent, the producer, the bandmates, their (sometimes very odd) families, Teddy’s girlfriend, associates in the law firm, and others — are well-drawn. Occasionally familiar, without being stock characters or cliché, each character ends up being strong enough that you want to spend at least a little more time with them. But Abramowtitz is too capable of steward of his resources and gives us just enough to leave us wanting more.
I’ve seen a lot of comparisons of Thank You to Hornby’s High Fidelity and Tropper’s This is Where I Leave You. I don’t get that. Maybe it’s just because these people haven’t read anything else by these authors — they should be comparing this to Hornby’s Juliet, Naked and Tropper’s One Last Thing Before I Go (to be fair, I have seen a little of this comparison, but no one else that I’ve seen has tagged Juliet). These three cover some of the same territory, and Abramowitz comes out looking really good in that company. Don’t get me wrong, I really liked Juliet, I know I liked it more than most people I know. But I don’t think it was as good as it wanted to be or as it thought it was. Thank You seems to do the things that Juliet was wanting to do but didn’t get done. I’m not necessarily saying it’s a better book (I might lean that way), but this is more successful in the areas they overlap. Similarly, while I wouldn’t say that One Last Thing is a bad book, it can’t hold a candle to this one. I’m not trying to make this a competition, but for this first-time novelist to get things better than old pros like Hornby and Tropper says so much about him.
One day I’ll die, and reading this will be one of the things I did with my time. I’m so glad it was.