Remember that Tootsie Roll commercial and the accompanying jingle?
Yeah, well…. I seem to be suffering from a similar affliction with this whole GenX ethos thing, ever since reading Jeff Gordinier’s book, X Saves the World. Don/t laugh. It’s very sad.
For example: I’m reading a new collection of stories by Kevin Brockmeier — The View from the Seventh Layer — an author I discovered last year or so when I read his novel, “The Brief History of the Dead,” which is about the end of the world, specifically the end of human life on Earth, a subject that has always seemed to me to be a preoccupation of GenXers. Anyway, I’ve only just started the new collection and the second story I read, the title story, seem to be strong with GenX ethos. It involves a single woman, Olivia, who lives on an island and works selling maps and sundries to tourists. Her parents are divorced. Her father lives on the island and not only owns the stand were Olivia works but owns the cottage where Olivia works. While her mother lives in Sao Paulo, Brazil, with her second husband. Or course her relationship with her parents is detached and fraught with sadness and regret”
She [Olivia] owned only two keys, to only two doors, and she never knew when she would find her father waiting for her beind one or the other.
“She [Olivia’s mother] and Olivia spoke once a month on the telephone, and when she conversation died away, as it invariably did, her mother always asked her what she was reading, and Olivia always named the last book she had actually been able to finish, Paris Stories, by Mavis Gallant, and her mother always said, “Ooh. I’ve been wanting to read that one. Are you enjoying it?”
The relationship with the mother reminds one of the wrote, repeated exchange between Winona Ryder’s character and her parents in the Teen Angst dark comedy about teen suicide, Heathers.
There is also in this story much harkening back to Olivia’s youth, painful memories. But there is also this beautiful device in which Olivia recalls how her senior she was inspired to boldly write the most honest things she could in people’s yearbooks. So throughout the story she will recall what she wrote to any given former high school chum. It began as an impulse with Brian Plimpton’s yearbook, when she wrote:
For what it’s worth, I had a cruch on you for most of the last three years, but I was too afraid to do anything about it.
And then in Chad Hayden’s yearbook, she wrote:
I will never forget the time the two of us hung the homecoming banner in the cafeteria and youlifted me stright up into the air by my ankles.
And in Debrah Straw’s:
I had a dream once that I was you, looking at me, and I said to myself, “I like Olivia, but I’m sure glad I’m not her.”
And in Kim Olsen’s:
You were my best friend for so long that it slips my mind sometimes that you’re not anymore.
I realize that you get the point after the first one but I just dig these so much that I couldn’t keep from quoting more. But I’ll stop now. Sorry.
Also, Olivia, once a veracious reader has stopped reader. She worked as a maid, cleaning homes and came to believe that “the conscience of every house was the bookshelves.” And thus began the practice of characterizing people by the books that they read. For example:
People who read Maeive Binchy give their sympathy so indiscriminately that she wondered whether it might not be self-pity simply masquerading as sympthy.
People who read Charles Bukowski believe that the only clear vision is a disfiguring one.
People who read Thomas Pynchon are smart but disdainful.
People who read D. H. Lawrence suspect that the forbidden is not necessarily without virtue, and so are easily persuaded that the forbidden and the virtuous are one and the same.
As with the yearbook thing, this tick persists, delightfully, throughout the story.
Plus other random snippets that seem to me to evoke a Genxerish ethos:
Later, when she had stopped reading altogether, she fill her spare time listening to the radio and making pots of tea for herself.
She had no responsibilities once the sun set. Or rather she had only on responsibility — the responsibility to fall asleep — and for that she could use her tablets.
She took her pill every night at ten thirty.
Her trouble with the sun began not long after she started taking the pills. She could not help but wonder if there was a connections. Warning: side effects may include dry mouth, drowsiness, and an inability to tolerate the basic conditions of life on the planet.
There were days when she thought she could not bear to stand behind the counter another moment, but this was the truth: whenever she had some time off, she did not know what to do with herself.
The story includes Olivia’s troubled, i.e. nonexistent love life, detailing Olivia’s three first dates after moving to the island, none of which amount to anything. Before going the third of these first dates, which she only goes on to placate her mother’s urgings, her mother give her this advice: “You keep trying to change yourself from the inside out, but it doesn’t work that way, honey. People change themselves from outside in.”
Is it just me or does this sound shallow and pathetic? And does this sound just like something a self-involved, self-entitled, solopsist Boomer would say to a GenXer?
It just smackes of pop-psch, self-help bullshit axioms like “Fak it ’til you make it” and “Act happy and you’ll be happy,” which is pretty much what else Olivia’s mother tells her: “What you do is pretend that you’re up for it, and if you pretend well enough, you’ll find that you are.”
So what? Happiness is a fiction you create in your own head? Sound creepily like the premise for The Matrix movies. And the one guy who wants to be sent back into the matrix with his memory wiped so that he won’t remember a thing about the real world.
There is more that I could detail, and of course this story has more going for it than some semblance of GenXerness. And it is just one story. There are many more to read in this collect. Also, consider the repuation that that moniker carries, I can imagine that Mr. Brockmeier might not appreciated his crafted tales being burdened with it. But still, I see it. I can’t help it. It’s a syndrome, a kind of sickness, perhaps even a full blown psychosis. They need to make a pill for it. Seriously.
Anyway, even if who think the whole GenX thing is BS, and I wouldn’t blame you, read this book. My instinct is that it is a good one.