The premise of the short story is simple: Charlie and Elaine divorce and Elaine (who writes for a major paper) immediately starts a column detailing all of Charlie’s many faults: from swearing in front of the kids to inadequacies in bed to his profession (he’s a banker). It’s a daily column, read by thousands or people and to those people Charlie becomes “the Bastard”. Along the way (and this is a short story so the way is not long), we learn that one of the things that initially attracted Charlie to Elaine was precisely that she was a writer and that it was her willingness to bare it all in her columns that he (at least partly) blames for the dissolution of their marriage and his infidelity.
Which is not to say that Charlie is a misunderstood saint. He most patently is not; he himself admits as much to himself and to the woman he ends up dating. At one point, when his love interest asks him why he doesn’t sue or at least get angry about the column he admits to himself that the reason he isn’t as outraged “as he could have been was that his conscience wasn’t entirely clear, what with the infidelity and the drinking and the willful lack of involvement in family life. Taking abuse in a national paper without attempting to hit back was actually a pretty good way of wiping the slate clean. He was hoping that when this was all over, his spiritual overdraft would have been paid off, and he’d be allowed to use the cash machine again.” I think this sentence made complete sense to me. And then when I realized why that was, I wondered why I was ever naïve enough to think that self-flagellation has gone out of style.
For this is a story that exposes not only how writers become successful of they are willing to hurt those who trusted them most but how we, as a society, have become addicted to “tell-all” shows and books. About how all of life, even the most intimate parts, can so quickly become a commodity (otherwise known as reality TV) to be endlessly discussed and dissected by complete strangers. Because none of us are saints. That’s why families have so many stories to tell one another—funny, embarrassing stories. But (as Nick Hornby points out) “Take away the love and the laughter, narrate the stories as if the characters had acted with malice and self-absorption and everybody was in a bleak independent film about alcoholism and schizophrenia and child abuse.”
And that’s what we’re all consuming these days. Day in and day out. So, this is a great (if somewhat depressing but In a funny sort of way) story with an oddly redeeming ending about our modern world. A story such as only Nick Hronby could have written.
I highly recommend it.
Everyone's reading Bastard
Product Name: Everyone's reading Bastard
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A great story that feels like a book and social commentary in one—in 29 pages. It is funny, it is sad and it is above all classic Hornby.