A few years ago it dawned on me that everybody past a certain age — regardless of how they look on the outside — pretty much constantly dreams of being able to escape from their lives.
Thus opens Douglas Coupland’s novel, The Gum Thief, which I read on my recent trip to NYC (perhaps I’ll muster the enthusiasm to post more about the trip at a later date, though I wouldn’t hold your breath). It was the second time I’d read this book and of course I enjoyed it the first time around but for this time I was reading it with a different POV, because I was thinking about a previous post of mine, in which I rambled about this notion or impulse or whatever you want to call it to simply walk away from one’s life, about escaping who you are, where you are, what you are, even if you don’t know exactly why. The Gum Thief is steeped in this theme, a theme which I find very intriguing to say the least, especially within the context of Generation X. I keep wondering if the idea or impulse or even action of escaping one’s life is most particular to Generation X.
I suppose it’s something I’ve always thought about but is seemed to crystalize in a way when I learned of Dan Chaon’s new novel, Await Your Reply. I’ve been a fan of Chaon’s work since I discovered his first short story collection, Fitting Ends, when I was in grad school, getting my MFA in creative writing. I’ve yet to read this new novel but I eagerly look fwd to doing so because Chaon is an exceptional writer and because this novel explores that very idea of walking away from one’s life and because he is also a Generation X writer, a designation that he not only accepts but embraces (see his comment to my previous blog post).
In any case, ever since learning of Chaon’s new novel and what it is about, I’ve been noticing this theme in many places. Not only in Coupland’s novel but also in other GenX literature, such as the move Grosse Pointe Blank, which revolves around a character who upon graduating high school walked away from his life for 10 years before returning.
Admittedly I have more than just an academic interst in this sort of subject matter. When I left my home town of Warren, Michigan, to go away to college, I saw it as something of an escape. I recall tooling around my neighborhood the day before I left for school, filled with this romantic notion that I would never be coming back, not permanently anyway. Of course, I was a lot younger then. Like Martin Blank, I returned to my Michigan home, but 12 years later not 10, although I did attend my 10 year class reunion, but not as a hitman…unfortunately. Unlike Martin Blank, I di not then make a quick get away again, this time with love of my life. Still, the love of my life and I are planning are escape from Michigan, hopefully soon, but that’s another subject.
In any case, my fascintion with this idea continues. I will be on the look out for more examples and plan to detail them here as they arise. Anyone out there have any suggestion, in the form or books, movies, tv shows, etc, please pass them along.