So, reading ATSYLM reminded me much of, as alluded in the last blog, the disillusioned searching of the grunge era of the 90s. It’s this chronic condition associated with twentysomethings. As I approach the middle of my twenties I’ve read more and more about what’s expected of a 25+ year old and what is appropriate for this decade of my life. Gessen really accurately portrays three guys sort of lost in the plot of their lives.
He created an interesting narrative, though at times I had trouble distinguishing the three voices. Mark, Sam, and Kevin blurred a bit for me. They each had tricky love lives, frustrating jobs, and some fascination with a foreign part. A primary element of the novel dealt with taking ownership of your story. None of the guys have super heroic moments and they each have several “life changing epiphanies” (that don’t really change their lives) but they truck on rather realistically. Lost like your average 20something.
For me it helped to read a novel for adults told by multiple narrators. I’m working on a young adult novel that swaps between two teenage guy narrators and ATSYLM provided me a real glimpse of how difficult it can be to separate their voices.
Everyone knows the old adage, “Write what you know.” For most twenty year olds the thing we know the most about is self-discovery. So it appears in what we write. It’s a universal story – figuring out your role in society – an important universal story.
Though ATSYLM ends with some positive resolutions it avoids cliche happy endings. This is something I will always be conflicted over: happy endings. Sad stories speak to people, draw something out of us. But I also recognize people need to be given more stories of HOPE. I guess for me it’s a balancing act. A question of how to inject the reality with the a narrative of hope.
If nothing else ATSYLM has motivated me to continue practicing. Until I get this story right.
It seems to me one of the main things contemporary Literature (and in most cases Film) attempts to do is ask, “Do you know who I am? Who I am supposed to be? What I am supposed to do with my life?” It’s as if a mass of twentysomething youngins are standing around with their lives (looking something like play-do) in their hands and have no idea what to do with them. It could be that I just get into kicks where I read several books that seem that way, and watch a couple movies that seem that way, and then I listen to Creep and there’s this overwhelming repressive sense of feeling. Like someone or something is feeding our disillusion, creating this confusion.
Enter All the Sad Young Literary Men by Keith Gessen, featuring three young men at varying points in a non-linear narrative, but mostly between the ages of 22 and 30. Each struggle with some definitive thing, one often thinks the question, “Do you know who I am? Do you recognize what I have to offer? Can you tell me what to do with it?”
Realistic and tough questions. And I’m not saying I haven’t been there. But what is this fascination with our own extended adolescence? I read an article the other day from Relevant Magazine called “11 Things You Should Know by 25-ish”. It’s insightful and, refreshingly, it offers solid advice in figuring out my role as an adult in society. In reality, we have it easy. Across the board we haven’t been forced to grow up by a war (like the generations of the World Wars), collectively the worst things we’ve experienced are a recession that still leaves us with more money than most areas of the world and a shrinking job market (which is yeah, frustrating). So, there aren’t going to be as easily defined roles for us to jump into and take over as the older generations retire and pick up the golf clubs. What’s the appropriate response?
Bellyache? Watch tons of TV, play video games? Or spend hours on a psychic hotline like Winona Ryder inReality Bites?
The three guys in the story eventually do work out feasible realities for themselves. It reminded me a bit of my decision to forego a 5 year or 10 year plan. When those things don’t work out it can be very difficult to get back on track. So, take it as it comes… figure it out. That way it’s not disappointing to you when you discover you’ve morphed into a different person than you expected you’d be at 16, or 20, or yesterday.