Travis_J_Smith’s #CBR5 Review #117: Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist by David Levithan and Rachel Cohn

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After my past indictment of David Levithan as a writer who cares more about the idea than the execution, you’d think he would earn a spot on my list of authors I’ve plain given up on, and you’d be wrong. Okay, not entirely. I read this mostly to see if the book was as loathsome as the film, and I plan on reading 10 Things I Hate About You now that I’ve learned not only was it initially a book, but it was also written by, of all people, David Levithan. But my morbid curiosity in this case has its limits, and they don’t extend far (if at all) past those two.

I say that, and yet here I am, having to admit I was wrong about him, just this one time. Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist was written in alternating chapters, the same as Will Grayson, Will Grayson, with the two authors trading back and forth, each taking one character. And, once more, I couldn’t stand the chapters for one character, while I quite liked the others. The only difference is it wasn’t Levithan who inspired the vitriolic response this time, it was Cohn. Norah stands as an example of what’s wrong with the majority of female characters, her thoughts always seeming to come back to boys and sex. Worse still, those thoughts reveal a deep lack of self-respect. The boy she’s getting over was an unappreciative, manipulative dick, and the one who helps her get over him (Nick) spends the majority of the book more concerned about getting back with his ex-girlfriend than with taking advantage of the perfectly viable girl who just fell into his lap (or, should I say, lips?).

Before people start saying I’m contributing to the problem with wordings such as “taking advantage of,” let’s get one thing straight: I worded it that way on purpose. Why? Because that’s what Nick is doing, whether he realizes it or not. He’s preying on an emotionally weak girl who seems attracted only to boys who are in some way wrong for her. Even disregarding the fact that he pays her no mind until the very end, Nick and Norah have next to no compatibility. They’re just getting to know one another and they already sound like the embittered old couple who’re only able to translate their feelings for one another into anything even resembling love when their resentment of one another leads to rage-sex. This is more pronounced in the movie, which I saw first, but it’s still there in the book.

If Norah’s every other thought wasn’t something inappropriate about Nick, and if she didn’t instigate everything, practically begging Nick to use her as his rebound, Nick would still be mooning over a girl he was too dumb to realize cheated on him. In that sense, Nick isn’t exactly a sympathetic character either, but at least he isn’t playing into a culture of sexism like Norah. And at least Levithan manages to make him charming in spite of his issues. I can see why a girl might fall for him… if he were to cut out all that other crap first. He has self-confidence, which I hear girls are into, as well as more self-respect than you’d think a guy in his situation would have. So clearly he has a leg up on Norah; correction, Norah has a leg up on him because, once again, that’s all she seems to have on her mind. That and a torrent of self-deprecating thoughts that are obviously at the root of it at all and that make it sound like I, known self-deprecator, am positively in love with myself by comparison.

I could just as easily argue that these two emotionally broken fucks are meant for each other. Who else could love a guy so clingy? Who else could love a girl so self-destructive? Actually, Norah’s family is sort of loaded, and it has its share of connections, so I’m sure she wouldn’t have too much trouble convincing boys to make her life more miserable than it already is. Plus, she’s played by Kat Dennings in the movie. Nick only got Michael Cera. I think it’s clear who wins that battle. Yet even picturing Dennings the whole time, I couldn’t think of Norah as a girl I, or any boy, save Nick, would want to date. Admittedly, my first girlfriend was like a less attractive version of Norah in hindsight, her ex basically the twin of Norah’s, and her only dating me out of desperation (as she would tell me after we broke up, though not in those precise words). And I was of sound mind when I chose to date her. But that doesn’t mean I want to read what’s essentially a fictionalized retelling of that mistake of a relationship.

The only reason I asked her out in the first place was because she seemed interested, and the only reason I dated her as long as I did (six months) and got dumped instead of doing the dumping was because she was my first ever real girlfriend. I was naive enough to mistake what I was feeling for love when, in reality, I just liked having a girlfriend, even if I didn’t particularly like her. We weren’t all that compatible. She wasn’t even my type, physically. To be brutally honest, I wonder how blinded by “love” I was to see her as attractive enough to not just kiss, but also have sex with. That sounds awful of me, but I just know that the thought wouldn’t even enter into my mind now that I’m past that point in my life. I’ve had girls moderately more attractive than her show interest in me since then, and I didn’t even give them a passing thought. Like her, they weren’t my type physically, or in any other way for that matter.

In short, I am Nick. Or, better yet, was. So personal bias might play a little into why I wasn’t as bothered by him as I was by Norah. It certainly plays a role in why Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist was, for me, largely a failure. Again, I’m already haunted by memories of the time when I was stupid enough to fall for my own Norah, and so I don’t want a written reminder, which is all it is. Is it in some ways true to life? Yes. Since I lived it, in a sense, I know people like Nick and Norah exist. That doesn’t mean I want to read about it, and it doesn’t mean it doesn’t play into the culture of sexism that we, unfortunately, live in. For those two reasons, I say pass on the book, and don’t even bother watching the movie. It’s not even worth it for Kat Dennings; I’d rather watch Juno, or even Two Broke Girls to get my Dennings fix. Yes, I’m desperate enough to subject myself to Two Broke Girls. That alone should tell you how put off I was by this entire thing and, thus, all you need to know.

 

Travis Smith’s blog, containing this review, as well as others, photography, and more, can be found here.