By JANET MASLIN Published New York Times: September 27, 2009
By Nick Hornby
406 pages. Riverhead. $25.95.
In earlier days, Duncan might have been the lone creep sifting through Bob Dylan’s garbage in the middle of the night. Now, thanks to the Internet, he has soul mates ready to discuss all forms of Crowiana. It’s Christmas in Croweland when an unplugged version of “Juliet,” his most famous album, is suddenly made public. The acoustic “Juliet” consists of a set of old demo recordings and it quickly becomes known as “Naked,” whereas the famous, fully produced version is “Dressed.” Now for some plot engineering from Mr. Hornby: he prompts Annie to quietly write her own small online review of “Naked” while Duncan concocts a far more self-important version. It’s Annie who gets a reply. Tucker Crowe is moved by what she has to say about him because she shares his feeling of being adrift. After all, Annie calculates that she has wasted 15 years hanging around Duncan. And Tucker has been out of the public eye since that Minneapolis bathroom visit, in 1986.
In maneuvering and manipulating these characters, Mr. Hornby, the author of “High Fidelity,” is on safe and inviting terrain. He knows all about the get-a-life pop-cultural obsessive who can devote himself to the study of someone else’s career and declare himself a “world expert” on the subject. Mr. Hornby doesn’t characterize Tucker Crowe’s music all that plausibly, but he can at least be funny about it. “Juliet” is supposed to be one of the great lost-love albums, akin to “Blood on the Tracks,” even though Tucker has since figured out that the girlfriend about whom he wrote it wasn’t all that interesting. And if it’s hard to imagine this Dylan-Springsteen-Leonard Cohen amalgam, the book also wittily describes him as influenced by Dylan Thomas, Harold Pinter, Johnny Cash, Albert Camus and early Dolly Parton.