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The novel America needs in 2013

31 December 2012

From CNN:

It seems today that a new stage of life has opened up. Sociologists call it “emergent adulthood,” Time magazine termed it “the Twixter years,” and author Kay Hymowitz referred to it as “pre-adulthood.”

People in this group are over 18, but as they head toward 30 they still act and think like adolescents. They bounce from job to job and relationship to relationship, live with parents at home or in a house with five friends, watch ESPN and play video games (the boy-men) and read “Twilight” and ponder whether he’s just not into you (the girl-women), while all of them sprinkle “like” and “‘n stuff” and “ya know” in their speech. Adolescence used to be a condition you escaped as soon as you could, but these 20-somethings want to prolong it.

We need to counteract them, to restore embarrassment to adolescent habits, and books are a key weapon.

After all, books have the power to fortify attitudes. For instance, the “Harry Potter” books, a wonderful phenomenon for tweens and early-teens, offered so compelling a world of heroic, beset youth and hostile adults that readers clung to Harry well past the proper age. In fact, quidditch matches have spread to more than 200 college campuses. “Twilight” has had a similar impact, intensifying the ordinary shenanigans of teenagers to luridly high melodrama.

. . . .

Yes, there are several superb recent novels about teens and 20-somethings by talented writers, like Jeffrey Eugenides’ “The Marriage Plot” and Gary Shteyngart’s “Super Sad True Love Story.” But they have too much sympathy for the emerging adult, too much understanding of young love and companionship, to do the work of correction.

It will take an altogether different book to explode extended adolescence; specifically, a frolicking comic novel that submits the interests and longings of pre-adults to whimsy, burlesque and farce. Not gentle humor, but all-out comedy or satire that casts the whole experience and habitat of pre-adults as both ludicrous and avoidable.

. . . .

It will serve a larger purpose, too, the same one that motivated satirists from Aristophanes and Juvenal to Swift and Pope to Mark Twain and the creators of “Dr. Strangelove”: to curb self-indulgence, deflate pretense, and expel stupidity. To take down a popular genre or a representative figure or a trendy pose, one good belly laugh works better than pages of strict criticism.

Link to the rest at CNN and thanks to B.S. for the tip.

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49 Comments to “The novel America needs in 2013”

  1. Actually, I believe this article is misguided. I believe that adolescence is being extended into the 20s, and that is not “their fault”. Blaming the young is both unfair and is missing the big picture.

    The extension of adolescence into the late 20s is both a sociological and an economic trend, due to the fact that people are living longer, and therefore staying in the workforce longer.

    Since people are keeping their positions longer, positions open more slowly, and younger folk don’t have as much access to the workforce until later.

    This is not about the values that have been instilled in the young. There is simply limited space in the workforce, so parents are supporting their children longer.

    It’s actually very interesting how this may impact the culture at large. For young adults to have alot of free time may have some interesting consequences. When you pair this with instant and global communication, as well as the energy, idealism and passion of the young, I will be very interested to see the impact of this as it unfolds over time.

    Now, a book about That, would be very interesting!

    • Yup, agree with your point completely. Whenever someone starts using inherent morals (or lack thereof) to blame any group of people, be wary. This all sounds like unneeded finger-pointing, and more reason to take our eye off the economy (the real issue).
      Also, that it’s by an English Professor is laughable.

    • Bunches of unemployed, resentful young people is probably *the* single best indicator that hideous violence on a society-wide scale is imminent.

  2. To quote a buddy of mine:

    “So what this guy is saying is that someone should write a book that tells people in their 30’s that they’re childish drains on society but do it so it’s funny because WE ALL LOVE TO LAUGH AND NO ONE WILL SEE RIGHT THROUGH THIS. Then, we should expect those same 30 somethings to take their minimum wage paychecks to go buy a book that tells them they’re lazy, stupid f***s. Yes. I see. This is A FLAWLESS plan.”

    • The author is an English professor, after all.

      I don’t know that market analysis is one of the strong points of this otherwise estimable group of people.

    • Oh, I dunno. Lots of my peers paid money to see “Reality Bites.”

      Of course, pre-crash Winona was freakin’ hot, so there is that.

  3. You know what would solve this “problem”? Jobs. I’m not kidding. If you want “grown-ups”, create a demand for them. Get the economy back on track and all these “extended adolescents” will grow up fast. Nothing like to good-paying full-time job to turn you into the spitting image of your parents.

  4. Gee, I’m 39, I have a full-time job and two kids, big house, lots of land, and yet I still manage some ESPN and video game time.

    I didn’t know I should feel shame, but now I do. I guess I’ll just swap out the video games for more adult pursuits like three martini lunches.

  5. You’re all wrong, every one of ya!

    The novel that America needs in 2013 is obviously the one that I wrote.

    Its not out as an audio book yet so somebody is going to have to read it to Dan for me. 😉

  6. Thanks Dan, hope you enjoy it. Made it to number 2 on the political thriller list, so; happy day.

    I’ll stop picking on you now. 🙂

  7. Hasn’t Logan’s Run already been written? Though it wasn’t a parody (the book not the movie-but I love both) just saying nothing says youthful drain on society like Logan’s Run. It’s a classic but I don’t it’s been taken to heart to whip those useless kids into shape.(cue sarcasm)

    They’re a product of their environment just like everything and everyone else. Between the high jobless rate, expensive college, high illegal immigration (which has a major impact in Houston-high school kids have a tough time finding menial jobs now- my husband teaches high school), encouragement of the pursuit of happiness to the exclusion of all else and the rampant blame the other guy mentality that parents and society and media have taught, it’s no wonder they’re talking longer to grow up. I wouldn’t want to go out there either if I were them.

    I had to buy a new car this month since my seven yr old one had transmission problems (bummer I know, :o) and the dealer told me that my credit score is the highest he’s ever seen. Over 800. WTF? I didn’t know if I should celebrate or cry. That’s unusual now? I know times have been bad, but who has taught this next generation to be so flagrant with their credit? And the flip side of how terrible is it really that people are having to live off their credit? My parents had to do that at one point when I was a teen. We nearly lost our house and were homeless.

    When we bought our house eight years ago and had to list our debts, my husband had his student loan, his car and a bit of credit card debit. I had zero. The loan officer nearly fell out of his chair. He couldn’t believe I had zero debit at 32 although I use my cards every week.

    I’m 42 now and I’m stunned at some of the new medics we hire. They don’t understand how to use a key map. They don’t understand N,W,E,S. Why? Because no one has ever taught them how to use anything other than their gps or phone and now they’re an adult of 19 or 20 with nearly zero life skills. I have to teach them how to function without the tech before I allow them to use the EMS tech.

    I knew all these things not because we didn’t have the tech, but because my parents made sure I knew how to drive standard, knew how to change my own tire and drive if the clutch went out. They taught me all the things they knew and more. They made sure I wanted to grow up so when I turned 18 I was ready to leave if I wanted. I enlisted in the Army the same day I graduated high school.

    What aren’t we teaching our kids anymore? And why not?

    • Good points, all of them.

      I’m ten years older, and more surprised than ever at how much ‘common knowledge’ has been lost. There is no ‘common sense’ as a result, so I see a lot young people trying to tackle life with skills suited to video games and high school.

      But I believe the knowledge is lost because parents think ‘the world has changed, this doesn’t apply.’ Or their working so hard, just to survive, they’re too stressed to try.

    • It’s not just kids who have horrible credit card scores. At the beginning of all this mess, my mom — a real estate agent — was living off her credit cards rather than ask for a family loan, and… Let’s just say that was the beginning of the Recession, and it didn’t get better “in a few months.” It was a bit of a pain, straightening out her credit after it got so bad that she couldn’t live in De Nile anymore, and we wish she’d come sooner…

      Which reminds me, I gotta write her a check.

  8. I’m 50. Where’s the Quidditch game?

  9. Childhood ends when you can know morons when you see them; adolescence ends when you realize you’re a moron too.

  10. Ugh, I HATE this kind of thing. I graduated college in 1992, right into a recession, and everyone had a horrible time finding employment. And what was in all the papers? Oh, you’re Gen X, you don’t stand for anything, you’re moochers, children, spoiled brats who live at home and work at McDonald’s–because you want to, not because THERE AREN’T ANY JOBS. Talk about adding insult to injury! And now following a much worse recession, this guy is surprised that someone who graduated college in, say, 2009 doesn’t have a home, a car, three children, and perfect credit?

    How blind and self-absorbed would you have to be to write the novel this guy envisions? I guess blind and self-absorbed enough not to realize that most people don’t have a guarantee of lifetime employment like he does.

    And he’s written an entire book about how much he hates young people! Wow, if I were an undergraduate at Emory, I’d stay as far away from this guy as I possibly could.

    • I think this article was probably better in the original Latin, because Cicero was a much better orator and writer than this dude. O tempora, o mores is Latin for “Hey, you kids get off my lawn.”

      • Isn’t this basically the same thing said by every older generation to every younger generation?


        • This got me wondering when this sentiment was first recorded. It reminded me a bit of something that Utnapishtim said to Gilgamesh in the eponymous epic. Then it hit. The flood narrative has to be the first written expression of “Hey, you kids get off my lawn or I’m going to turn on the sprinklers.”

    • Mary, I graduated high school in 1975 and got the same b.s. Our high school guidance counselors told us not to expect a job market when we graduated. They were right until about 1980, when Ronald Reagan was elected.

      I wonder if the literati were saying the same thing about Shirley Temple movies during the Depression.

    • Ah, Mary, the flashbacks to 1992. Even if you had a job, there were no guarantees. I was laid off that year because I was young and single and didn’t have a family to support even though I was more qualified.

      Now, tell me again how kids are lazy…

      • The good news is, now you’d get the job because you’d work cheaper and put up with more abuse than a family person, and you would’t whine about your bennies.

      • The “lazy” thing infuriated me, because I went to a good college, busted my a** there, and did very well, only to graduate and be told I was lazy! Grrrr….

  11. A little thing… while I agree that 50 Shades is not high lit, I take offense at his skimming of the segment he parsed for shredding.

    He quoted the book: “I open the door and stumble through, tripping over my own feet and falling headfirst into the office.”

    He then ranted: “Now, who trips over her own feet and falls headfirst to the floor?”

    She didn’t fall headfirst to the floor.

    I would not want this guy editing my work.

    • Oh dear, my inner editor kicked in. Here is part of the passage he quotes: I open the door and stumble through, tripping over my own feet and falling headfirst into the office.

      Double crap — me and my two left feet! I am on my hands and knees in the doorway to Mr. Grey’s office, and gentle hands are around me, helping me to stand. I am so embarrassed, damn my clumsiness.

      The problem is not that she fell headfirst to the floor. The problem is that first she says she falls THROUGH THE DOOR and INTO the office, then next says she’s still in the doorway. Which is it? In the doorway or in the office? And shall we discuss that it would have read more smoothly with a semicolon, rather than a common, between embarrassed and damn? And does she really need to say OWN feet? Who else’s feet would she have tripped over? It would only be meaningful if she tripped over someone else’s feet.

      I expect a halfway decent editor could find some nit in virtually every paragraph. And yet, who am I to quibble with success?

  12. You kids get off of my lawn! (William beat me to it.)

    50% of college grads in the last couple of years are unemployed or underemployed. How lazy of them. How dare they seek to escape from their dim prospects by watching a ball game or diving into the world of a video game, where their actions are important and meaningful?

    How dare those young adults live in their parents’ homes instead of crime-ridden government housing? How dare they eat from their mothers’ stoves instead of enrolling in food stamps?

    How dare they feel demoralized about making something of themselves just because their meager paychecks are being swallowed by their gas tanks? Just because the economy created by older generations is actively rejecting them? Just because they’re being forced to compete directly with people who have a five year or greater experience edge over them? Just because no matter how long you work at McDonalds, your specialty skills aren’t going to improve and in fact will decay?

    Yes, we desperately need a book telling these people how awful they are.

    I’ll tell you what we need. We need to tell people age 18+ that they’re worth something, that they have the power to make their own lives whatever they want, as long as they work at it. We need to tell them that they’re juggernauts of success that can’t be knocked down by hard times and a few failures, that they themselves are the only ones that choose whether they quit. We need to tell them that they can have dignity, in their own eyes and the eyes of others, and that pouring themselves heart and soul into something is the way to do it.

    • In other words, we need Horatio Alger.

      I like this plan in theory, but it is no longe possible to do this kind of thing. Between immunization by irony and the victimization industry, any attempt will, at best, turn you into Bill Cosby.

      • I don’t think it has to be Horatio Alger-type stuff, but I for one make a point of critiquing these types of articles when I come across them, because I know firsthand how it feels to have people kick you like that when you’re already down. I think it is important for young people today to know that other people had similar experiences in their youth, but they managed to work through them and become respectable fuddy old people.

  13. It’s hard to blame kids for remaining adolescent longer when we now tell them they need degrees to do jobs a school-leaver with no qualifications could have done not long ago. Pretty soon they’ll be at school until they’re thirty so they qualify for a burger flipping job.

    George Washington was county surveyor at seventeen. Imagine suggesting a teenager do that job these days.

    • George Washington was county surveyor at seventeen.

      Yes; and he had to do all the maths longhand. Surveying is a much easier job today, both physically and intellectually, than it was in the 18th century.

  14. First of all, this guy is a complete and utter idiot who has apparently totally missed the fact that stable well-paying longterm jobs are pretty much impossible to come by for young people these days. If there are jobs at all, it’s contract work for a limited time. Kind of hard to buy a car/house and raise a family on that, if that’s what you want. Besides, he should be happy that young people are playing videogames or mooning over Edward Cullen and Christian Grey, considering that they could also be rioting in the streets.

    Besides, this sort of article not just tends to reappear at regular intervals, the subtext is always the same as well: “Well, I got married right out of college and got a stable corporate job and a house in the suburbs and a car and three children, I go to church every Sunday and am a member of every Rotary/Lion’s/Whatever club in town. I did what I was supposed to do and now I hate my life. I hate my job, I hate my wife, my children ignore me, the clubs bore me, the car is scrap metal and the house was foreclosed. And now I see those young people who are not getting married and not buying houses in the suburbs like they should. Instead they’re playing more videogames and having more sex and drinking more alcohol and taking more drugs than I ever did and they actually seem to be having fun. And we can’t have that, because adult life is not supposed to be fun. Because if it was, then that means that I wasted my life. Wah!”

  15. I tried to leave a comment at the site, but could never get signed up with them, so I’ll share here:

    Well, Mark, I cannot fathom why you recommend a broad comedy as the novel of 2013. IMO, what is needed to raise the bar above idiocy and mediocrity is a serious dramatic story with real and honorable characters, not fabricated klutzes whose authors must have laughed all the way to the bank.

    I didn’t read Fifty Shades, nor any of the previous posts until after I’d posted.

    I’m wondering what URI is above, but am assuming it means URL, so I’ve put my site there.

  16. Let’s not forget the “syndrome” attached to the Baby Boomers (my own peer group). Peter Pan, was what they called it, in the late ’60s and early ’70s. The refusal to grow up. You can find articles about the “Lost Generation” (post-WWI) as well and their frivolity and general lack of a mature refusal to face reality but prefer to live in a haze of gin, jazz, and sex.

    This is nothing new and I suspect it’s true of most generations looking back at the ones coming up behind.

  17. Hmmm. Sounds like a book I’ve started. Satire/farce. But my goal is not to tease and berate underemployed 22-year-olds. Why the hell would anyone write with that goal in mind? Who would want to read it if they thought the author was putting them down? I feel a little dirty now.

    • Why the hell would anyone write with that goal in mind? Who would want to read it if they thought the author was putting them down?

      People write with that goal in mind because they are taking shameless advantage of the Satirist’s Escape Clause: No matter how deadly accurate your satire is, your target will always think it’s about someone else. It worked for Swift; it worked for Dickens; it worked for Twain and Vonnegut, and it still worked, alas, for ‘Beavis and Butthead’.

      • Right, but the author seems to think that the perfect novel he has in mind will not only be popular and funny but also lift up pop culture and our collective intelligence when 20somethings read it and say, “hey, he’s right, I and my cohorts are self-indulgent children. I’d better get one of those great jobs that don’t exist.

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