GenX Divorce Fiction

Usually when y0u think about GenX fiction you think about flannel-wearing hipsters working in coffee shops and other young adults slackers stuck in McJobs of all sorts who sit around waxing cynical and showing off their encyclopedic knowledge of movies, music, TV and other forms of pop culture. Not  so for for Jonathan Tropper’s novel This is Where I Leave You.

This novel is about a 40-something Judd Foxman whose marriage is on the rocks after his wife has an affair with his boss and friend. Oh yeah, and his father has just died and wants the entire dysfunctional Foxman clan to sit shiva.

I was initially drawn to this  novel because first I enjoyed a previous Tropper novel, The Book of Joe, and second because the subject matter seemed germane to my own life. I’m 42 and getting divorced, but not because of a cheating wife, and I’m not Jewish. But still, I was right, even more than I could have imagined. It’s rare that a novel’s subject and themes strike so close to home, but this one did. I’ve been plowing through it all last week and this weekend.

But I was also delighted by the generous use of pop culture references, like the death of Kurt Cobain. There’s even a character that is known for his ability to recall at will scenes from movies and song lyrics. That’s the Generation X part. Suffering through their own divorces is the newert facet of GenX fiction and rightly so — as a generation we’re growing up. I can certainly vouch for that.

I never was able to write my GenX slacker 20-something novel or my GenX 30s boom and bust office drama. Maybe I can do the GenX 40-something divorce saga, with just the right amount of humor and insight. And don’t forget the pop culture references, plenty of pop culture references, because it just wouldn’t be GenX fiction without them. Okay, that’s not a mandatory criteria but it’s one of the major ones.


The Book of Joe…

…is a novel that I’m reading.I suspect that title is a take on The Book of Job from the bible. That is if there is a Book of Job in the bible. Is there? Or is there just a story about Job? I don’t know. I’m not a bible scholar. Just a Catholic. In any case, the guy in the book gets shit on a lot. Although unlike Job, it is not entirely without reason.

Joe is a 34-year-old author who, when he learns that his father has had a stroke and fallen into a coma, returns to his home town of Bush Falls after being away for some 17 years. And the kicker is, he’s not really welcome there because he wrote a bestselling novel about said hometown in which just about everyone ends up looking pretty bad, or so they think anyway.

I can really identify with the main character. I mean, I was once 34. And my dad had a stroke during open-heart surgery. True, he didn’t fall into a coma but he was pretty dazed and confused there for awhile. He kind of still is in a way. Also, I’ve always wanted to write a novel that would piss off my friends and family, but so far I’ve only managed to do the latter. Not entirely mind you but my life isn’t over yet, so…

The Book of Joe (for some reason retitled as just Bush Falls, according to is by Jonathan Tropper and I’d classify it as a GenX novel. I think that whole coming back home after fleeing and staying away for a long time has become something of a GenX staple. Or if it’s not, it’s on it’s way. Also, it’s funny. Joe is quite sarcastic, which gets him into trouble more than a few times. And there are plenty of pop culture references. And author is definitely a member, born in 1970. So…

But this novel isn’t just funny. It can also and grim and serious. In fact, it is just such a passage with which I identify most:

Loneliness is the theme, and I play it like a symphony, in endless variations. I’ve lived more than a third of my life, and am more alone now than I’ve ever been. You’re supposed to make your way through life becoming more substantial as you go, the nucleus of your own little universe, your  orbit overlapping the orbits of others. Instead, I’ve shed all those who cared about me like a snakeskin, slithering angrily into my small solitary hole.

Whether it is exactly true or not, that is precisely how I feel these days.

Tropper has written several novels. I’m looking forward to reading more of his stuff.