I’m almost finished with the novel, Jennifer Government by Max Barry, and it definitly qualifies as X Lit. Not only is it funny and ironic, but many of the characters seem to be caught in a state “stuckness,” obliged to jobs that they not only dislike, but in fact hate, and even find, well, to be immoral on any number of levels. Then of course there is the portrayal of a society so dominated by corporate interests that individuals’ last names depend on the company they work for — John Nike, Billy NRA, etc. Additionally, the government is literally bankrupt, requiring victims to fund investigations (can anyone say Social Security). Characters attempt to opt out of the system and exist apart from it with varying degress of succeccess. Some fail because they simply cannot compete with so much powers. Others are seduced by money. Creativity is co-opted by corporations for profit. Lives are taken in the interest of profit. This scenario is one that persists as a possibly nightmare come true for many Gen Xers, who seem to share a vague sense of certainty that things will not work out in the end. Things will ultimately end badly. And yet our better angels compel us to stive, in spite of thie angst.
Anyhoo… this got me thinking about other X Lit. authors and books, and I thought I’d try to list them here, as much as possible.
There is Douglas Coupland, of course, especially his novel, Generation X, but his other works qualify as well.
Brett Easton Ellis, by virtue of his age to begin with, but also his themes, particularly in Less Than Zero, the way he deals with gender roles and sexuality seems in tune with an Xer ethos.
Jay McInerney, especially Bright Lights, Big City. Of course, I struggle with this particular one. Does JM really qualify as a Gen X author? Born in 1955, he’s 53, which puts him with the Boomers. Even a recent article, in Time I think it was, classified him as a Boomer. And yet, I seem to want to co-opt him into Gen X, at least for me. Why? Perhap because his first book, BLBC, was formative to me as a writer; it seemed to give me permission to write about the things I’d experienced, to a degree, even though I never lived in NYC or or worked in magazine publishing in Manhattan or dated a model. I did my share of coke and club hopping. I suppose it is more of an 80s novel than a Gen X novel. And while the two realms may overlap they are not equal. A more detailed argument is required to claim Mr. McInerney convincingly. I wonder what he would think?
David Foster Wallace
And while it might seem out of left field I am going to add Cormac McCarthy, especially his Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Road. Dystopian fiction is very Gen X, in that it expresses all our worst fears come true, and The Road certainly does that. Also, McCarthy was a man who opted out of the maintstream world for much of his life, living off the grid in a shack in Tenn at one time. He was often broke or close to it, unemployed, but he persisted. He still does, quietly, rarely granting interview because it seems he finds it unproductive, merely boastful. The only way he would interview with Oprah was if she came to him — and really how often does that happen. He lived on the fringe, mostly overlooked until quite recently, as has Generation X. At age 73 or so, McCarthy is a clear case of how the X ethos has more to do with a way of looking at the world than it does with one’s age.
Perhaps an interesting study in contrasts between Boomer and Gen X writers could come out of examing the careers and works of Stephen King, a Boomer born in 1947, and his two writer sons, Joe Hill, born 1972, and Owen King, born 1976. Of course, Hill has just two books to his credit and Owen King only one but over time it could prove insightful.
But returning to the idea of dystopian fiction: I say this is a Gen X preoccupation simply because the “end of the world” was something that me and my friends when we were younger used to talk about quite a bit. Probably because we lived with the threat of nuclear war between the US and the then Soviety Union. Our war was The Cold War. The fact that it never came to pass (although it still could, simply with other players firing the shots) doesn’t make it any less significant.
Few things get me more indignant than Boomers who claim that Gen Xers are a spoiled generation because we did not grow up with war. Boomers, of course, had Vietnam, the grand-mother-fucker of all wars, which they seem to have a sick affection for, so much so that a small group of their ilk, i.e. the Bush adminstration, felt a need to recreate it. The Iraq War is as much a reenactment of Vietnam as it is a war unto itself. Even those Boomers in power who now take a public stance against The Iraq War have done little to end it. And many not only did nothing to prevent but approved it with their vote — Yeah, I’m looking at you Hillary!
I actually once had conversation with a Boomer woman and her Vietnam vet husband (which because of his status I was pretty much not allowed to have much an opinion on the issue that didn’t agree with them) who claimed that my generation did not know war. When I brought up the Cold War, she dismissed the argument. She seemed to think that because it did not fit her conventional definition of war, i.e. it was not Vietnam (she barely aknowledged, Korea, or either of the WW wars) that it did not apply. But I argued that it was a real war and that it did have real affects on the young people that grew up in its shadow. The Cold War for many Gen Xers, though not all, was the nuclear annihilation equivalent of the school bully promising to kick your ass but not telling you exactly when or where he was going to do it. When you least expect it…expect it. It could happen at any moment.
That kind of threat can really fuck with your head. You begin to think, well, we’re all going to die some day anyway so what is the point of anything. What is the point of getting good grades? What is the point of waiting to have sex, when you may not live long enough to get married to have sex? Fuck now! I mean, there was a time when I actually believed that I would not live to see the age of 21, so of course I drank, got drunk, did stupid ass shit as a teenager. It may seem irrational now, but hindsight is 20/20. At the time, in the moment, it seemed very fucking real! And it was scary as shit. Some people are still surprised that their is a cohort of you people that, when they were young, feared that a sudden, blinding flash of light would be their last vision of the world — and it could come at any time! It could happen now….now….now…now…
Perhaps this is why I am intrigued by Zombie movies andcollapse of society fiction — The Stand, by Stephen King was one of my favorite books when I was younger; I read it over and over. Even today, I have Zombie dreams, especially after I became a father. And in 2003, when the power went out, I freaked a little. Caught in traffic on my way to pick up my then toddler daughter with a gas tank on fumes, I pulled over into a Wal-Mart parking lot and began walking the 7-10 miles to my parents’ house. Of course, it would have been smarter to walk the 1.5 miles back home, get my wife’s mountain bike, and ride there, but I simply was not thinking straight. And all the clogged traffic, the honking horns, the frustrated drivers yelling and honking their horns made me frett that everything could crumble into chaos at any moment. I was watching carefully for the signs. For it to happen now…now…now…
In any case, there are no doubt many more Gen X books and authors. Our early circumstances, graduating into poor economies that made it difficult to find the kinds of jobs we had hoped for may have had the hidden bonus of creating a lot of good writers and artists, filmmakers etc.