Summary

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

The story centers on two characters, a middle-aged man named Will Freeman and a young schoolboy named Marcus Brewer. The story is set in London in 1993, which is important because of a number of pop-culture references and links that are important in the development of the story.

Will Freeman is 36 and doesn't have to work because he wrote a popular Christmas song and lives comfortably from the royalties. His life centers around trying to meet women, drinking, and basically goofing off.

After going through a rather pleasant relationship with a single mother, Will latches onto the idea of meeting other single mothers and pretends to have a two year old son so he can go to support meetings where single mothers get together to talk about their difficulties. This is where he meets Marcus and Fiona, Marcus' mother.

Will's emotional walls are hard to break down and it takes some time before he actually begins to enjoy a friendship with Marcus. Eventually Will begins to take a serious interest in Marcus' life and tries to help him become cool by giving him advice about how to dress and how to act so that he can have more friends.

At this point, Marcus' father Clive joins the fray as he visits Marcus and his mother with his new girlfriend during the Christmas holiday. Not long after, he suffers a broken collarbone while trying to fix up his house and starts to re-think the way he has approached his responsibility as Marcus' father.

When Clive asks Marcus to come up and visit him, Marcus brings along his friend Ellie, a young woman totally obsessed with Nirvana and Kurt Cobain in particular. On their way to see Clive, Ellie flips out at a store owner who has a cardboard cut-out of Cobain displayed in the window. After she breaks the window, she and Marcus are arrested.

In the meantime, Will has actually found himself falling in love with a woman and losing his ability to remain detached. This troubles him greatly but he eventually starts to actually enjoy the ups and downs of the new relationship. Rachel also has a son named Alistair who is the same age as Marcus.

All of these characters end up at the suburban police station where Marcus and Ellie are taken. At one point in the conversation he has there with Will and Fiona, Marcus rather forcefully says the he hates Joni Mitchell. This is evidence to Will that Marcus finally has things figured out and the novel ends with Will telling himself that Marcus is going to be ok.

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