Excerpt from How To Be Good by Nick Hornby, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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How To Be Good

by Nick Hornby

How To Be Good
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  • First Published:
    Jul 2001, 320 pages
    Paperback:
    Apr 2002, 320 pages

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I can only find one story in the paper that I want to read: a married woman is in trouble for giving a man she didn't know a blow job in the club class section of an airplane. The married man is in trouble, too, but it's the woman I'm interested in. Am I like that? Not outside in the world I'm not, but in my head I am. I've lost all my bearings somehow, and it scares me. I know Stephen, of course I know Stephen, but when you have been married for twenty years, any sexual contact with anyone else seems wanton, random, almost bestial. Meeting a man at a Community Health forum, going out for a drink with him, going out for another drink with him, going out for dinner with him, going out for another drink with him and kissing him afterward, and, eventually, arranging to sleep with him in Leeds after a conference . . . That's my equivalent of stripping down to my bra and pants in front of a plane full of passengers and performing a sex act, as they say in the papers, on a complete stranger. I fall asleep surrounded by pieces of the Guardian and have dreams that are sexual but not erotic in any way whatsoever, dreams full of people doing things to other people, like some artist's vision of hell.

When I wake up, David's in the kitchen making himself a sandwich.

"Hello," he says, and gestures at the bread board with the knife. "Want one?" Something about the easy domesticity of the offer makes me want to cry. Divorce means never having a sandwich made for you -- not by your ex-husband, anyway. (Is that really true, or just sentimental claptrap? Is it really impossible to imagine a situation where, sometime in the future, David might offer to put a piece of cheese between two pieces of bread for me? I look at David and decide that, yes, it is impossible. If David and I divorce he will be angry for the rest of his life -- not because he loves me but because that is who and how he is. It is just about possible to imagine a situation in which he would not run me over if I was crossing the street -- Molly is tired, say, and I'm having to carry her -- but hard to think of a situation where he might offer to perform a simple act of kindness.)

"No, thanks."

"Sure?"

"Sure."

"Suit yourself."

That's more like it. A slight note of pique has crept in from somewhere, as if his strenuous attempts to make love not war have been met with continued belligerence.

"Do you want to talk?"

He shrugs. "Yeah. What about?"

"Well. About yesterday. What I said on the phone."

"What did you say on the phone?"

"I said I wanted a divorce."

"Did you? Gosh. That's not very friendly, is it? Not a very nice thing for a wife to say to her husband."

"Please don't do this."

"What do you want me to do?"

"Talk properly."

"OK. You want a divorce. I don't. Which means that unless you can prove that I've been cruel or neglectful or what have you, or that I've been shagging someone else, you have to move out and then after five years of living somewhere else you can have one. I'd get going if I were you. Five years is a long time. You don't want to put it off."

I hadn't thought about any of this, of course. Somehow I'd got it into my head that me saying the words would be enough, that the mere expression of the desire would be proof enough that my marriage wasn't working.

"What about if I . . . you know."

"No, I don't know."

I'm not ready for any of this. It just seems to be coming out of its own accord.

"Adultery."

"You? Miss Goody Two-shoes?" He laughs. "First off, you've got to find someone who wants to adulter you. Then you've got to stop being Katie Carr GP, mother of two, and adulter him back. And even then it wouldn't matter, 'cos I still wouldn't divorce you. So."

Reprinted from How to be Good by Nick Hornby by permission of Riverhead, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright 2001 by Nick Hornby. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.

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