A Very Nice Girl



I read John Irving’s “The Last Chairlift.” Reviews were not kind, the main focus was on the extreme length, nearly a thousand pages, but I read everything Irving writes, “Garp” resonated just that much. And the last one, “Avenue of Mysteries,” billed as “magical realism,” which I have no fondness for, was truly disappointing, the reviews were right. So I was trepidatious re “The Last Chairlift,” but how could a skier like me not check out a novel with this title?

It gets better. There was a ton of focus on ski areas. On Bromley, where I cut my teeth, made my bones. Even more shocking was the inclusion of the Loges Peak lift at Aspen Highlands, before it was replaced by a high speed quad, with a safety bar. Yes, there was no safety bar on the original chairlift, and there was a sign at the bottom saying if you were scared of heights not to ride it, and it didn’t make sense until… There was a cluster of towers at the top of a ridge and then…the world dropped out from underneath you. It felt like a thousand feet. Could have been a few hundred, but one thing is for sure, if you rode it you never forget it, and I haven’t, and that was over fifty years ago.

And “The Last Chairlift” cut like butter. It was easy to read, I wanted to read it, even though it took me nearly two weeks to get through. It’s testimony to how great a writer Irving is. The first half is superlative, however the second half is not as good. And the bit with the ghosts felt subtractive as opposed to additive.

And I’d tell you you’re on your own, but I don’t think anybody will read “The Last Chairlift.” Let me correct myself, there are people who will, but I’d like to know how many actually make it to the end, that’s what I was wondering while I was reading it, just after release, was anybody else plowing through to the conclusion? Not that it was work, it’s just that the only thousand page book I can truly recommend is “Anna Karenina.”

And then I started Celeste Ng’s “Our Missing Hearts,” which was a number one best seller. And it was much more difficult to read. It never called out to me. Although half way through the focus switched, the location switched, and you realized exactly what was going on and the theme was interesting, but it made me wonder, this is what people want to read? You’ve got to be wary of the wisdom of the crowd. Take it with a grain of salt. The books people love are oftentimes the ones I don’t. They’re rewritten so many times as to be dense, as if they’re trying to impress a teacher as opposed to delivering a good reading experience.

And then I read “A Very Nice Girl.”


I’d never heard of it. But I got on a jog of reading best lists, you know, it’s an end of the year feature, everybody lays out their favorites.

And now a sidebar, you must read the best records list from today’s “New York Times,” YOU MUST!

“Best Albums of 2022”: https://nyti.ms/3Fo5uzu

At first you’ll feel inadequate, not knowing the titles, never mind the acts, and then you’ll continue and your emotion will change, you’ll start to laugh, this is how far we’ve come, that the best albums of the year are ones almost nobody has listened to?

Not completely, but this is hilarious. This is a snapshot of today’s music world. Everybody’s listening to different stuff and the critics are meaningless. Sure, many people have lauded the new Rosalia album, not that many Anglos have heard it, but so many of the rest of these albums… Even better, try listening to them! I’m a big Beth Orton fan, but if you think her new album is one of the best of the year, you must not have heard much, or your taste is off, or you’re just listing her name because what came before is superior.

And believe me, in book lists you see the same thing. Readability is secondary to the writer trying to impress other writers, the cognoscenti. And oftentimes the list is dominated by minorities talking about foreign experiences. (Am I gonna get canceled for that?) And I must say, some of these books are excellent, but most of them the average reader cannot relate to, if for no other reason than they’re work. Forget the content, first and foremost a book must be readable, that’s why John Irving shines.

So I was in the Apple News and I found the “Esquire” best list: https://bit.ly/3OZXtUv And this is the U.K. “Esquire,” a whole different animal from the U.S. version.

And number one was “To Paradise,” by Hanya Yanagihara. I read it, and enjoyed parts of it. But I’d never recommend it. If it weren’t for Yanagihara’s previous work, “A Little Life,” almost no one would have read “To Paradise,” and I’d tell Hanya to keep her day job, which she has, as Editor in Chief of “T Magazine” at the “New York Times.”

And I avoid nonfiction, there’s just not enough truth in it.

And I’m going down the “Esquire” list and I find “A Very Nice Girl” by Imogen Crimp. The blurb intrigued me, and I reserved it at the library, along with another book on the list.

And long after midnight, in truth after 1 a.m. Monday night, I finished Ng’s book, disappointed once again, and although I thought I’d go on TikTok to relax myself, before I did that I decided to check out the two books I’d recently downloaded via Libby.

The first was “A Very Nice Girl.”

I started reading and I couldn’t stop. Was it the late night mood? Was this book truly resonating this much? I had to put it down to go to bed, but I couldn’t wait to get back to it.


“because if you sing for your audience—look out at them, try to reach them, to touch them with your song— you’ll never make something real—you must go inside instead, and bring them to you”

It’s a conundrum to be an artist today. Because the commercial pyramid has been destroyed, there are no obvious steps. I hope those unknown acts feel good about being in the “Times,” because it’s not going to engender a lot of listens, people are just too busy, and they only trust a few sources, and when it comes to music it’s not the “New York Times,” more often some unknown person you found online.

So what do you do? You can try to game the system. Work in an anointed genre. Work with proven hitmakers. Promote the hell out of yourself, both in traditional media and online, and try to gain a toehold in the firmament. And if you do, you can do brand extensions, you can make some money, even though most people will never hear your music, but even those who do, WILL THEY CARE?

Most of today’s new music rolls right off you. It takes balls to walk into the wilderness, forge your own path. But these are the people whose works we cotton to. Even though most of them fail. But this is what touches our hearts.

So “A Very Nice Girl” is about an opera singer. I went to the opera numerous times as a kid, but not since it became a thing. And the funny thing is there’s a character who fits the description of the modern operagoer in this book. Who’s got all the money, sponsors singers, goes, but knows nothing about the operas themselves. He wears his involvement, his attendance, as a badge of honor.

And then there’s the guy the opera singer gets involved with.

“Generically clever with no plan, so I did what all generically clever people with no plan do, and I went into finance.”

That’s Max, educated at Oxford, making a boatload of money, but troubled by his empty life.

And then there’s the practical element. Do you want to have a family, do you like nice things, are you really going to make a living as an opera singer?

So I’m going to quote more wisdom below, but that’s not why I’m writing about the book, the wisdom is secondary to the plot, I always read for plot first. Readability and plot, those are the building blocks.

And what you’ve got here is an outsider, Anna, the opera singer, vacillating from feeling in the groove to like she doesn’t fit in and should give up. As for others being able to truly understand and support her… That’s rare. And many who have this support are mediocre, they’re good, but just not good enough.


“We can’t sing without life experience—she said.—It’s our bread and butter. It would be like trying to paint without a brush.”

Yes, you can get a prepubescent kid to sing, maybe even have a hit, but there’s no truth there. Even if they write their own material, they just haven’t lived enough. You write from experience, and if you’ve got none, the odds of writing something that connects with other people is de minimis.

“They’re not interested in perfection, these people, although you intend to be perfect. What they want is for you to say something real. Something with meaning. Something that changes how they see and think and feel, even just for a bit.”

This is what most creators don’t know. They tell us they’re working so hard, but they’ve got no idea what art is. The more you go inside, the more you show your warts without trying to impress others, just in your own head, the more people can resonate. This is exactly what we’re looking for. Gimme some truth.

But that’s art. And that’s in the book, but really “A Very Nice Girl” is about relationships.

“He doesn’t come near my inner life.”

That’s what we’re looking for, to be known. This is the bedrock of relationships. When you feel like the other person gets you. Your relationship can look beautiful from the outside, but inside it can be hollow.

So Anna, the destitute opera singer, is involved with Max, the banker, who keeps her at a distance, even though sometimes he wants to be so close.

And Anna desires the connection, the closeness, the feeling you can only get from love. And in trying to get that, is she losing herself?

“He’d never stopped me from doing anything. He didn’t even ask me not to. It was just this feeling I had sometimes. Something in the way he looked at me. This feeling that I wasn’t quite right.”

Self-censorship. You want to fit in, you want them to love you, you’re wary of doing anything that will push them away, so you stop doing and saying so much. You’re torturing yourself, even if the other person is giving no specific instructions.

“I’d forgotten his stillness. How he makes me aware of every unnecessary movement I make.”

Anna tries to fill the holes, but then she gives up.

“I started telling him about the audition, but it sounded trivial, and I didn’t know how to tell it, how to get his sympathy and still sound good.”

This happens to me all the time, I listen to someone’s long, oftentimes boring, usually about nothing significant story, and when it comes to me, assuming they even give me room, even ask, what I have to say seems unimportant, I rush through it if I tell it at all. I’m looking to be known, and if not I usually don’t want to risk, it’s too depressing, laying out your identity, your heart, and them checking their phone, getting fidgety, getting up…I just stop. 

And there’s not only truth about relationships, there are observations of the outside world. One that stuck out was the description of what Tom Wolfe called a “social x-ray.”

“One of those women wealth would always preserve, like a lemon pickled in a jar. Her aging was shameful and secret, something that happened underneath her clothes, behind her skin.”

Not only is it a crime to get old, it’s a crime to reveal weakness or faults. The older they get the skinnier these women become, trying to achieve an ideal that only impresses their brethren, those who feel the same and the men who employ them as arm candy.

And there’s even commentary about modern life, social media hate, even though social media is not the context.

“We remember everything other people say about us, I think. Wear a skin made of all those words, so that when we look at ourselves in the mirror, that’s what we see.”

It’s hard to hold it together. Even worse, the success comes from not conforming, from reaching for the brass ring, and if you do succeed.

“Is this it?—I’d think.—Is this what it takes? Success. To be completely alone. No one’s voice in my head but my own.”


So there’s a transition in this book. You get inklings, but you’re not sure it’s coming and then you know it is and you wonder what the consequences will be. Because you know, the focus groups insist you have a happy ending, to make people feel good.

But not everybody triumphs. It doesn’t work out for everybody. But we rarely hear about them, only the winners.

So what is important in life? Relationships or careers?

And trying to achieve greatness comes at a cost.

“The weeks at home, I’d experienced none of the excitement, the joy that came with singing, but none of the lows either. Maybe it would be better to live a life that was muted, where experience operated within more limited parameters.”

Woulda coulda shoulda, it’s the human mantra. Oh, I could have been a rock star, but I chose not to. I could have been a doctor, but my father needed help in his business. They’ve all got excuses for why they never achieved their dreams. The essence is left out, that it requires a ton of work and sacrifice and there is no safety net, you still might not make it.


So here’s where I delineate the caveats.

Most guys like nonfiction, they don’t want to reveal their feelings, a book like this is too much for them, they want something that will help them in business. Ironically, “A Very Nice Girl” will give them more help than the business tomes, because it contains universal truth, whereas those business books show how someone completely unlike you triumphed, you’ve got to find your own way.

But there are guys who like to read about feelings, just like there are guys who like to listen to Joni Mitchell.

And, there’s a middle section, well the second quarter, that is just not riveting, when Anna goes back home.

But then, when she comes back to London…

Last night I couldn’t put the book down. I stayed up until 2:30 finishing it.

And it was weirding me out, I was enveloped in its world. I tried to play mind games, removing myself, saying it was just a book, but there was too much truth involved, I was worried about the characters, their choices. Real choices, that we all have to make.

So what I’m saying here is you’re on your own. “A Very Nice Girl” does not read as easily as “The Last Chairlift,” but it’s much easier and more rewarding than “Our Missing Hearts.”


So I could criticize “A Very Nice Girl.” The parents were two-dimensional. I throw that in because nothing is perfect, to criticize is oftentimes to avoid the essence. You overlook imperfection. We want someone who tries, who lays down their unique truth. History is riddled with women who got plastic surgery to look just like everybody else, eliminating their supposed flaws, and then their careers are negatively impacted, good examples being Jennifer Grey and Leeza Gibbons. You’ve got to own yourself, but it’s so hard to do.


It just felt so real. I wouldn’t make the same decisions, but I also wouldn’t take the same risks, and has this risk aversion hurt me in my journey?

God, I hate that word “journey.” All that pop/psych speak uttered by those who get their wisdom from social media and self-help books. And justify their lives by saying they’re on a journey.

That’s not the journey I’m talking about. To go on a journey means to leave home, to encounter new situations, be uncomfortable, take risk in achieving your goals. Most people don’t go on that journey.

But Anna does. Because she wants the Holy Grail. Sure, money is important, but is it important to YOU? Do you want to live a safe life doing a boring job, sacrificing your dreams?

And speaking of safe, the director in the book spontaneously utters some wisdom, and says his students can use it.

I’m gonna use it here, because it delivers the truth too often missing from today’s creative works, which are usually more business than art.

“Anyway, any art that feels safe isn’t worth creating.”

That’s true. That’s a lesson you’ll learn in “A Very Nice Girl.”


“A Very Nice Girl” was the book I’ve been searching for. After wading through the mediocre. The mediocre does not deserve amplification, there’s no reason to inform you of it.

But I must tell you about “A Very Nice Girl,” because I just can’t get it out of my mind, it affected me just that much, I’ve got mood hangover from last night. I’m pissed it’s over. Finding something this good in the future will be difficult.

But that’s what I depend on you for. To either be the artist or to recommend artists.

And there are very few out there. Very few.

But they are what make the world go ’round.

Because without art, life just isn’t worth living. We want to see ourselves reflected back to us, we want to learn about the human condition, we want to feel like we’re not alone.

I did not feel alone reading “A Very Nice Girl.” I felt seen, I was no longer a party of one, there were other people on my wavelength. And without connection…

You’ve got nothing.

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