One of the other movies that I watched this past weekend was Grosse Pointe Blank, perhaps my favorite Gen X movie of all time. I know some people get a confused look on their face when I dubbed it a GenX movie, but I think I can give a plethora of reason to support this claim. I’m not going to right now, but trust me, the movie drips with Xer ethos, and not just because it stars John Cusack, who is about as GenX as they come.
Anyhoo… I was watching it again tonight. And I started thinking about this idea of walking away from one’s life, just up and going, disappearing without a word, which is the main character, Martin Blank did ten years previous to the current action of the movie. I’m wondering if there is something particularly Generation X about this notion or impulse or even the thought of it?
A more recent novel by Dan Chaon entitled Await Your Reply, explores this very idea. Check the amazon description of the novel:
Longing to get on with his life, Miles Cheshire nevertheless can’t stop searching for his troubled twin brother, Hayden, who has been missing for ten years. Hayden has covered his tracks skillfully, moving stealthily from place to place, managing along the way to hold down various jobs and seem, to the people he meets, entirely normal. But some version of the truth is always concealed.
A few days after graduating from high school, Lucy Lattimore sneaks away from the small town of Pompey, Ohio, with her charismatic former history teacher. They arrive in Nebraska, in the middle of nowhere, at a long-deserted motel next to a dried-up reservoir, to figure out the next move on their path to a new life. But soon Lucy begins to feel quietly uneasy.
My whole life is a lie, thinks Ryan Schuyler, who has recently learned some shocking news. In response, he walks off the Northwestern University campus, hops on a bus, and breaks loose from his existence, which suddenly seems abstract and tenuous. Presumed dead, Ryan decides to remake himself–through unconventional and precarious means.
My guess is Mr. Chaon does not think of himself as a Generation X writer. But he was born in 1964. And I think if you examine his other works, short stories and a previous novel, you could make a reasonable argument for him qualifying as a GenX author. Anyway, that’s my take on it. Although it wasn’t initially. Not until I watched Grosse Pointe Blank again. And recalling coming across Joshua Ferris’ new novel on amazon — The Unnamed. Check out the descrip of this new novel:
Tim Farnsworth is a handsome, healthy man, aging with the grace of a matinee idol. His wife Jane still loves him, and for all its quiet trials, their marriage is still stronger than most. Despite long hours at the office, he remains passionate about his work, and his partnership at a prestigious Manhattan law firm means that the work he does is important. And, even as his daughter Becka retreats behind her guitar, her dreadlocks and her puppy fat, he offers her every one of a father’s honest lies about her being the most beautiful girl in the world.
He loves his wife, his family, his work, his home. He loves his kitchen. And then one day he stands up and walks out. And keeps walking.
In addition to that, I thought about a stories that I’ve heard about people, GenXers, who just up and walked away from their lives one day. Not necessarily disappearing, but still walking away.
I considered too that this has been a recurring theme in my own writing, characters that just walk away suddenly and disappear. I never thought much about it until now. Why does t his interest me? Is there something it beyond my own fascination?
And so I’m wondering if this is a GenX thing, for lack of a better description. is this a commonly held experience or idea or hidden impulse within Generation X? Or am I just imaging things, as I am want to do from time to time? I don’t know. You tell me.
Just came across your blog as I was looking for reviews of “Await Your Reply.” (Googling myself after midnight, sigh.)
To answer your question, I’d definitely consider myself a GenX writer.
Your point about the fantasy of escape is a good one, though I’m not sure what it’s about, exactly, either.
For some reason, I am still surprised when an author such as yourself finds his way to my blog and comments. I still have this feeling that I’m operating in vacuum. Even though I was actually contacted by The New Yorker magazine after griping about not receiving my copy of the now infamous issue with the cartoon of Obama and Michelle doing the fist bump on the cover.
I’m glad to hear that not only does the term GenX writer not bother you but that you readily embrace it. I know some writers aren’t particularly found of being “pigeonholed” which is not my intent. Just one of many particular lenses through which I like to view works of fiction, nonfiction and some poetry.
Of course, the fantasy of escape isn’t exclusive to Generation X. It just seems to keep cropping up a lot lately, particular in relation to Generation X. Take the series Mad Men, specifically the main character Don Draper, who is really Dick Whitman, a man that “stole” the identity of another man during The War, in order to escape his life. Now, the series is set in the early 1960s, but it was created by Mathew Weiner, born 1965, which would qualify him for GenX consideration. Another example, is the character of Dr. Cox on SCRUBS, who is clearly the GenX mentor to this Millennial interns, JD, Elliot and Turk. Dr. Cox is a lone wolf of sorts who has admitted in one episode that he has tried very hard to forget his childhood, constituting a version of walking away from one’s life. SCRUBS was created by Bill Lawrence, also a GenXer.
Anyhoo… I’m pleased that you found your way to my site and commented. Thanks. And I wouldn’t beat yourself up about googling yourself after midnight. My understanding is that this is a very common practice. If I ever happen to get published I’ll be doing the very same thing, I’m sure.
PS: You may not remember me, but I contacted you years ago, when I discovered you very first book, the short story collection, Fitting Ends. I still have the TriQuarterly Press edition of it. And I think I may still have the letter you sent in reply. I contacted the press and had them fwd a letter, if memory serves. My name is Chris Lopez. I was an MFA student at Western Michigan University at the time, and you were teaching at Ohio University and commuting back and forth from Cleveland, if I recall correctly. Anyway, ever since I’ve eagerly awaited each new book of yours. When I first started working at the library where I am now your previous novel, You Remind Me of Me, was still a fairly popular item. The new novel has three holds on it already, including mine. Although, I’ll probably end up buying a copy. Any chance your book will be reviewed in the NY Times Book Review? If so, it’s likely to garner more holds here.
Best of luck with the new book. I can’t wait to read it!
“And so I’m wondering if this is a GenX thing, for lack of a better description. is this a commonly held experience or idea or hidden impulse within Generation X?”
I really couldn’t say how common it might be. I know I’ve been drawn to this notion of leaving things behind. I think it might have something to do with the feeling of being alone as a GenXer. Boomers and Millennials are part of a large generation that get media attention. The feeling is that a GenXer could walk away and nobody would notice.
There is an odd feeling of transience in the collective psyche of GenX. Just think of the movie Slacker where the character and situations are constantly shifting. Maybe it has to do with feeling in between 2 large generations. Also, maybe it has to do with being born in the transitional era between space age and information age.
In reality, though, I think GenXers are a fairly settled generation. We’re content with our own small world and don’t feel as strong of a need to go out into the world to make our mark. GenXers do seem to put a high value on family rather than chasing careers.
This is slightly related. For Boomers, everything has to matter. Even art has to have an ideological purpose. On the other hand, GenX art seems to be more observational… ideas rather than ideology. A GenXer may do something important, but we feel less of a compulsion to do so. Or rather we believe we do whatever good we can by doing our own thing.
I agree, Ben ( you don’t mind if I call you Ben, I hope. If you do just tell me to stop it. If I continue you may need to whap me over the nose with a rolled up newspaper – it works for my wife).
I think it has much to do with GenX being a more of nomadic generation. Boomers see themselves as the center of everything and Millennials are very group-minded. I’d bet that isolation and lonliness doesn’t really come up often in their self-definition. Lucky them.
And yet the marginalization of GenX has in some ways been a good thing. Especially in terms of being innovative and creative. Being left alone to do what you please as you please can produce amazing results.
It does seem true that GenX is a settled generation in that we are more likely to be content with our lot in life. No doubt Boomers see that as a flaw, being too passive, giving up. And Millennials, at this stage anyway, can’t really fathom such a concept, although they may have to with the economy/job market that they are coming into. It may be even worse than it was for much of Genertation X, but then we didn’t have the Mellinnals unwavering sunshiny optimism either. Well, we’ll see how long that holds up, especially come Dec. 21, 2012 and the doom of civilization on Earth.
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