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Talking ‘Bout My Generation (?)

Last Sunday’s New York Times Book Review ran a review of Lena Dunham’s new memoir, NOT THAT KIND OF GIRL, under the headline  “A Voice of a Generation.”  I’m not a millennial and I’ve only seen one episode of GIRLS, so I can’t judge the validity of this claim, though I’ll note that it’s nice that this VoaG is female.  When I think about the novelists and writers variously hailed as the voices of my generation– Douglas Coupland, Brett Easton Ellis, David Foster Wallace, Rick Moody, Dave Eggers, Michael Chabon, Jonathan Franzen, Jonathan Lethem, Jonathan Safran Foer, they are overwhelmingly male. And white. And named Jonathan. (Clearly VIDA has a point). In any event, I arrived in New York a decade or so too late to indulge in the cocaine-fueled excess that Jay McInerney (another VoaG) chronicled in BRIGHT LIGHTS, BIG CITY and at the moment when grunge-rocking, flannel-sporting, ‘zine-publishing youth culture was in full flower on the opposite coast, so I’ve always maintained a bemused interest in the writers and artists who are designated speakers for their peers.

So who would you nominate? I’d say Lorrie Moore for Self-Help (though I see she’s not actually a GenX-er), Claire Messud for The Emperor’s Children, even Melissa Banks for her wildly successful Girls Guide to Hunting and Fishing, a book that made the linked short story collection almost as commercially viable as the novel.  Joanna Rakoff’s novels capture in retrospect the nineties I knew, but she didn’t write about the zeitgeist as it was happening.

What writers capture–for you–the preoccupations, anxieties and animating spirit of your generation?

One Response to Talking ‘Bout My Generation (?)

  1. Molly says:

    I think one of the defining characteristics of Gen X is that we don’t really take well to having a Voice. I think our voice is made up of a lot of voices–a short story here, a longform blog post there, one critically acclaimed but not-much-read novel, a collection of essays. I look through lists of Gen X novelists and I’ve never heard of most of them. :-) I do like Zadie Smith, Jhumpa Lahiri, Jennifer Egan, Donna Tartt (except that I really didn’t like The Goldfinch), Michael Chabon (although he’s a little older than Gen X but not quite a Boomer; really more Generation Jones, a term coined by yet another Jonathan: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Generation_Jones) and Dave Eggers (except for The Circle; what was he thinking?).

    In previous generations, a lot of writers didn’t really hit their stride until their 30s and 40s. Herman Wouk wrote The Caine Mutiny in his late 30s, Marjorie Morningstar at 40, and The Winds of War later than that; John Irving wrote The World According to Garp in his late 30s; Anne Tyler was in her 40s when she wrote Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant and The Accidental Tourist. Gen X got a later start on just about everything than the Silent Generation and the Boomers, so maybe it’s just taking us a while to find our Voice. :-)

    (BTW, Herman Wouk is 99 and has outlived most of the rest of his generation… and he is STILL WRITING. I love that guy.)

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