I never really took to this idea of ‘the voice of a generation’. I might find it intriguing, and a neat if superficial way of describing a certain roster of writers from Fitzgerald to Bret Easton Ellis (who himself points out that the voice of a generation does not equal the best writer of a generation, is simply that twentysomething guy who becomes the first to hit a certain literary territory). Maybe because I’m female, so in these books by inevitably white male writers I can only identify so far with their white male protagonists* (although this still doesn’t mean I want to read PREP, no matter how much my sister recommends it), and maybe because my own generation is characterized by a certain postmodernist mistrust of such tidy and centralizing notions.
We’re the type of people, after all, who roll our eyes at the idea of being a ‘type’ of people, who categorize ourselves as people who call the very idea of those categories into question. So if “the paradox of every Voice novel is that it brings a generation of readers together around the idea that they alone are the single badass misfit truth teller in a world full of phonies”, as writer Lev Grossman would have it, maybe one reason why that Voice seems to have gone AWOL since Douglas Coupland’s moment in the zeitgeist sun is because the concept itself has come to seem rather… quaint. What truth? Whose truth? My truth (as Britney Spears would have it)? What is truth? Maybe the ‘truth’ is what’s phony, and the phony only seems phony, but there’s a deeper truth lurking beneath. Maybe I’m just being ironic. Maybe you are.
I’m not one to, uh, speak for an entire generation, but my own perception was never that I am, or want to be, “a badass single misfit truth teller in a world of phonies”, but that the world has become an arena of such ‘truths’, told from conflicting perspectives, all of them bad-ass and misfit in their own way, many of which were never given any voice at all before. How a single unifying Voice could emerge from a mess like that, I’m not sure. It would have to be splintered, contradictory, unreliable in parts, transgendered, transcultural, polysexual, self-reflexive, deconstructive, not without humor, and quite possibly suffering from multiple personality disorder**. Possibly not a Voice you’d want to be trapped in an elevator with, at least for a long period of time. (Or, hell, maybe you would.)
Still, this article makes for enjoyable reading. And parts of it do resonate a bit, such as this little bit here (emphasis mine)..
In fact, the novel is getting more user-friendly in general. Fun and profundity are no longer mutually exclusive. Humor is back: Smith and Shteyngart are satirists, Foer and Mitchell are wits. Likewise, vigorous, plotty storytelling is in vogue again. For much of the 20th century the border between high and low fiction was diligently policed. Now there’s an attractive trend toward hybridizing high and low, grafting the brilliant verbal intelligence of high literature onto the sturdy narrative roots of genre fiction. “That used to be a real novelty act, or something that was done with kid gloves or with heavy irony,” notes Lethem. “Now, a lot of writing has a very natural degree of engagement with the vernacular culture.” Look at someone like Sittenfeld, whose Prep, a wildly readable account of a Midwestern girl floundering at an élite Eastern boarding school, became a surprise best seller. Is she a literary writer or a commercial writer? The distinction no longer seems to apply. She’s just a good writer.
…although it still doesn’t mean I want to read PREP, no matter how much my sister recommends it.
While I was writing my way towards today’s quota of BLOODANGEL-sequel pages, Dinora, our wondrous nanny, took the twins for haircuts. The twins turned two in April, and have not yet ventured forth any particular opinions about how they want their hair. Which leaves it up to Mommy and Daddy and their profound philosophical differences on the subject. Daddy wants it short. Really short. Buzz-cut short. Macho engineer type short. Which Mommy wouldn’t mind so much if some kind of faux-mohawk was involved. But this is not the case.
So of course I like longish, shaggy, spiky. Rocker-kid hair. Art-student hair. ‘Single bad-ass misfit truth-teller in a world full of phonies’ kind of hair.
So I let the kids’ hair grow out for as long as possible until E threatens to pick up the razor and shave their heads himself. They go to the barber, Griffin is good in the chair, Xavier is a pissed-off moving target in the chair, and they come home with haircuts shorter than Mom likes if not quite as short as Dad likes. And we deal.
Even short, Xavier’s white-blonde hair tends to stick up anyway, in a way that makes me think of Billy Idol.
This pleases me.
* I would fall in love with male protagonists, of course, but that’s not the same thing. Luke Skywalker in the novelization of RETURN OF THE JEDI (hey, I was in fifth grade). P.K. in THE POWER OF ONE, the book I read so many times throughout high school the paperback fell apart. The book was my first introduction to South Africa, and so many years later when I fell in love and married a real life South African of my own — who, like P.K., is of English descent — this did seem like one of those interesting little life coincidences. As do my random encounters with Stephen Dorff, who played P.K. in the movie adaptation. Not to mention, after weeks of wondering why the redhead in my French cooking class seemed so eerily familiar, I finally discovered she is a working actress who played P.K.’s girlfriend in the movie. See? Books touch your life in ways your English teacher never warned you about. Especially in Los Angeles.
** Actually, the proper term now is “Dissociative Identity Disorder” — DID — which, to me, lacks a certain verbal punch.