Women are commitment junkies. They are never satisfied. Commit yourself to 30 minutes and a woman expects you to stay all night. Commit to a night and a woman wants a relationship. Commit yourself to a relationship and pretty soon she expects you to leave your wife and kids.
It is incredibly difficult to get shot of a woman once you have knobbed her.
—The old Tony Parsons
Today’s Tony Parsons writes like a sensitive new millennium New Man, but he’s still the same old unreconstructed hack he ever was. Of course, “hack” here is a word that means “a talented wordsmith who writes to eat and live, to fly first class and buy a second house in the country for cash”, and there is no shame in that whatsoever. I just suspect Nick Hornby wishes he’d been able to patent his shtick before Parsons got his hands on it.
One For My Baby is the story of an unhappy and inadequate 30-something teacher who finds love in foreign parts, loses his love to tragedy and returns to the bosom of his family in London to find himself once more. Taking a job teaching English as a second language, he seeks solace in the beds of his students, watches his father ruin his own marriage, sees his grandmother succumb to cancer, and so on and so what?
Shunning the many opportunities, One For My Baby says precisely nothing about the nature of families or love. Despite the many protestations of the main character, Alfie Budd, about the depth of his love for his dead wife Rose, his desolation never quite rings true. Indeed, given the never-voiced joke about her name (Orson Welles must be spinning in his over-sized grave), it’s tempting to think that Parsons is simply indulging in a little light wish-fulfillment.
Hell hath no fury like a first wife run to fat.
—Parsons on Burchill
It must pain Parsons to know that his name will be forever coupled with that of Julie Burchill. Positioned as NME‘s “hip young gunslingers” at the precise moment of the punk rock explosion, the pair had the world at their feet. They wrote one book together—the wonderful, spiteful obituary of rock’n'roll, The Boy Looked At Johnny, they married, they bred and they went their separate ways. Parsons kept the fruit of their union, and later parlayed his single-parent experiences into the international money-maker Man And Boy.
Touted as Parsons’ third book, One For My Baby is no such thing. Even if we differentiate between the Man—new, sensitive Parsons—and the Boy—the hip young loudmouth with opinions for sale, this work was still, in truth, his second shot at Hornby’s chick-lit for men crown. One For My Baby was first published in 2001 and performed disappointingly, so a direct sequel to the break-through novel was commissioned—Man And Wife. Now, One For My Baby is getting what the punk rock Parsons might have called a pointless re-release with a sweetly Stalinesque skew.
Parsons has actually written at least three more novels. It seems like it’s always been his goal to see his books sell in millions in airports. When he left the NME, he wanted to be the rock ‘n’ roll Arthur Hailey. His ‘80s novels—Platinum Logic, Limelight Blues, and Winners And Losers—revealed a writer with mad bestseller skillz undermined by his need to retain his Captain Cool status. He wrote well, he was one of the earliest authors I can remember who structured their books for Hollywood, laying them out as if they were three parts screenplay to one part novel, but his plots labored because he was overly concerned with making trite political points and preserving his iconic self image.
Three strikes and out, he went back to what he does best—personality journalism—until he saw the opportunity to get a new kind of novel into the bookshops of the airports of the world.
So yes, One For My Baby is contrived and soulless. Yes, the story is little more than an opportunity for Parsons to combine his own holiday snaps with a few more family stories, that misogynistic wish-fulfillment and an inevitable Hollywood ending—he still writes with a screenplay in mind. But this is still good workmanship. Parsons has a deft touch and a pleasant conversational first person voice. He knows how to offer opinions that strike chords, and he has an enviable knack with set pieces and neat one-liners. What he doesn’t have is a believable story or a single rounded character. Frankly, no one in One For My Baby is as likeable or as believable as throwaway The Slab—the biggest name in sports entertainment and proud author of Smell the Fear, He-Bitch.
I’d like to read more about The Slab. I couldn’t care less about anyone else in One For My Baby. It’s easy and enjoyable to read. It’s fit for purpose. It will see you through a short haul flight or a day or two on the beach, but it says nothing to me about my life and I profoundly hope it says nothing to you about yours. In a few years time, I confidently expect to see Tony Parsons rebranded as the next James Patterson. No, really.