Two years ago, I shared an excerpt of my unpublished first novel, Growing Up Single, with a literary agent at the Muse and the Marketplace writer's conference in Boston sponsored by Grub Street. We needed to specify a genre, so I said that my book was a Coming of Age novel, but it was set over a span of a few decades. The reaction of the agent to this classification was interesting. She said that I should position this as a Coming of Age novel ala Nick Hornby.
Two years later, I've now just finished reading Nick's breakout novel -- High Fidelity -- and I totally get why the agent (who I'll leave unnamed) made the comparison. High Fidelity is set over a period of about thirty years and covers classic ground that is found in Coming of Age novels, but the main narrative action and the issues that are addressed face the protagonist Rob as he reaches the age of 36 and feels like his life is falling apart. Hornby writes a lot about relationships -- much as one might find in a romance novel -- but he offers the guy's point of view, so that creates a much different perspective. One example of the difference is that Rob starts the book by sharing is "Top 5" girlfriends list and makes a point of saying that it doesn't include Laura, who just left him for another man.
Rob's life is full of delayed decisions. Today we might say he is "commitment challenged," since he likes having a woman in his life -- that significant other -- but something has always gone wrong and he's still single in his mid-thirties, unlike many friends who have found that special someone and gotten married. In his work, he's barely scraping by in running a record shop whose specialty is vinyl records during that transition period in the late Eighties to early Nineties where the CD has become mass market and vinyl is mostly for high fidelity aficionados (hence the title).
My book Growing Up Single has some similarities. The main character, Jack Reilly, is still single at age 35 and tells the story of how he got to that point. Jack has had a series of relationships, but for various reasons, they've never worked out. As the book progresses, he's already crashed and burned in his first career choice and moved on to be part of a computer software startup. As the book approaches its denouement, Jack needs to make a series of decisions about his love life and his career -- the two are somewhat in conflict -- and he agonizes over which way to go.
As a writer, we are encouraged to find books like the ones we have written, so that we can pitch them to agents and publishers and they can get some idea of why your book is like somebody else's success, but is also different. Having now read both books, if there was a shelf of books written from a man's perspective that covered the territory of relationships and coming to grips with potential life changing issues on both the career and the personal side, both High Fidelity and Growing Up Single would fit nicely on that shelf.
I have not been actively pitching Growing Up Single while I've been writing my second novel -- coming soon -- but I've still gotten a couple of nibbles from small publishers in the past couple of years when I told them about the book. I'm grateful to the agent who told me about Nick Hornby, since I now know about one more book which delves into some of the same issues and I can use that at some future point when talking to other people about the book.
I'd recommend High Fidelity to male readers who want to see how another guy dealt with the desire to find a more mature approach to relationships and their careers, or to anybody who would like to read more books in the seemingly non-existant genre of Men's Fiction. I'd also recommend this book to women who'd like to get a guy's point of view on romance. There are many elements of this book that sprawl over into the territory of romance novels -- the pursuit of love, the tension of breakups and the attempt to re-kindle a lost relationship -- but the male perspective gives the work a different twist. Hornby also has a good sense of humor, so there's a lot of funny material in the book as Rob works through his various issues.
For those readers who'd like my take on the Coming of Age story as told in Growing Up Single, get in touch.