X. Lit: what I’ve been reading…

Finally went back to finish Jennifer Government, Max Barry’s speculative novel about corporations run amok and dominating the world, or at least trying to, but of course the evilness of soulless companies is thwarted, to a degree anyway, by the will of individuals to do good blah blah blah. Not supremely original but a fun and funny read. And definitely an X Lit. novel. I’m curious to read Barry’s more recent novel, Company, described thusly on Amazon:

From Publishers Weekly
With broad strokes, Barry once again satirizes corporate America in his third caustic novel (after Jennifer Government). This time, he takes aim at the perennial corporate crime of turning people into cogs in a machine. Recent b-school grad Stephen Jones, a fresh-faced new hire at a Seattle-based holding company called Zephyr, jumps on the fast track to success when he’s immediately promoted from sales assistant to sales rep in Zephyr’s training sales department. “Don’t try to understand the company. Just go with it,” a colleague advises when Jones is flummoxed to learn his team sells training packages to other internal Zephyr departments. But unlike his co-workers, he won’t accept ignorance of his employer’s business, and his unusual display of initiative catapults him into the ranks of senior management, where he discovers the “customer-free” company’s true, sinister raison d’être. The ultracynical management team co-opts Jones with a six-figure salary and blackmail threats, but it’s not long before he throws a wrench into the works. As bitter as break-room coffee, the novel eviscerates demeaning modern management techniques that treat workers as “headcounts.” Though Barry’s primary target is corporate dehumanization, he’s at his funniest lampooning the suits that tread the stage, consumed by the sound and fury of office politics that signify nothing. (Jan.)

The corporate-based novel is not unique to X Lit nor Generation X, but it is a significant part of the X Lit lexicon. Consider novels like jPod and Microserfs by Douglas Coupland and the more recent Then We Came to the End, by Joshua Ferris, which I’ve not yet read but based on the amazon description I feel pretty confident citing it:

Amazon Best of the Month Spotlight Title, April 2007: It’s 2001. The dot-com bubble has burst and rolling layoffs have hit an unnamed Chicago advertising firm sending employees into an escalating siege mentality as their numbers dwindle. As a parade of employees depart, bankers boxes filled with their personal effects, those left behind raid their fallen comrades’ offices, sifting through the detritus for the errant desk lamp or Aeron chair. Written with confidence in the tricky-to-pull-off first-person plural, the collective fishbowl perspective of the “we” voice nails the dynamics of cubicle culture–the deadlines, the gossip, the elaborate pranks to break the boredom, the joy of discovering free food in the breakroom. Arch, achingly funny, and surprisingly heartfelt, it’s a view of how your work becomes a symbiotic part of your life. A dysfunctional family of misfits forced together and fondly remembered as it falls apart. Praised as “the Catch-22 of the business world” and “The Office meets Kafka,” I’m happy to report that Joshua Ferris’s brilliant debut lives up to every ounce of pre-publication hype and instantly became one of my favorite books of the year. –Brad Thomas Parsons

No doubt Gen Xers will continue to produce these types of novels. It will be interesting to see how they evolve, as the corporate world changes. And how they compare with the ones that Millennials will no doubt write as well.

I’ve also been reaidng the novel The God of War, by Maris Silver. Set in 1978 about a 12 year old named Ares Ramirez who lives with his mother, Laurel, and little brother, Malcolm, who happens to be autistic, although as Ares narrates they had no name at the time for what he was, made it seem like it could qualify as X Lit. Even more to that point, Ares doesn’t know his father, who is out of the picture. Same goes for Malcom’s. Ares calls his mother by her name and bares much of the responsibility for raising his brother; he also bares the burden for Malcolm’s condition, having dropped him on his head as a baby, although I’m not sure that this is even possible. Anyway, they all live out in the desert near the Salton Sea, which for me echoed Coupland’s novel Generation X. This novel seemed like a sort of Gen X coming of age tale. But I’m having a hard time getting into it, you know. It’s okay, written well and all that. But there’s something about it that doesn’t really give me a chubby, you know. It just seems like a really good MFA project. Still, I’m going to try and stick with it.

That is if I don’t get completely sucked into Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity. I’ve already seen the movie with John Cusack a couple of times so I don’t know why I snagged a copy of it. But then I started reading it and got hooked, or so it would seem. I want to keep reading. And that’s the real test after all. Besides High Fidelity is very Gen X, dude.

Finally, I’ve been reading this non-fiction book — Against Happiness, by Eric G. Wilson. It is basically an argument against the American maniacal pursuit of utter happiness all the time and how the denial of sadness and melancholia is the true path to hell. Maybe it sounds depressing, but for a GenXer like me it is pure bliss, validating (ugh, I hate that fucking word!) my own melancholia while supporting my theory that too happy people are phonies, and probably not really happy at all, but repressed and afraid to let themselves be sad, worried of what other might think of them — as weak. It’s good stuff.

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