It seems a waste to review a book published in 1991, one that cemented the name of an entire generation in place. And yet, here I go.
Generation X is both timeless (e.g. diagnosing all kinds of late capitalism problems like the pain of not having health insurance, the despair at a lack of a coherent future, the inevitability that we’re killing the planet) and very, very much of its time (e.g. it centers mainly white men and revolves around the idea that somehow falling into depression and doing your best to leave late capitalism behind will somehow fix the problems inherent to late capitalism).
I have an incredible soft spot for this book. It is problematic and dropping out of society just means that those who are left can run it into the ground (a thing that the book does passingly comment on); but it reminds me so solidly of a time when I was young, when I was trying to figure out who I was, of a time before the internet when it was so much easier to be aimless. I can’t not love it.
I’ve been feeling my Gen X-hood lately; I’m not sure why, it’s just there. I’ve been listening to the Indigo Girls (their debut album came out 30 years ago) and REM; Welcome to Night Vale isn’t explicitly about Generation X, but it might as well be; if something’s been written about it lately, chances are I’ve read it.
Generation X, the book, was checked out of the library, so I chose Pattern Recognition instead. It’s a book very much of its immediate post 9/11 time. The main intrigue is about mysterious video clips that are posted online pre-you tube on whatever sites they can be hosted on. The internet is a big enough deal that it provides a place for people to come together to obsess about the videos, but not a big enough deal that you tube yet exists. And there’s a general sense of paranoia about the world and not being able to trust your immediate environment that was particular to the post 9/11 days.
But most of-the-moment of all, Cayce, the main character, her job is as a cool hunter. Someone who looks for trends in the real world for companies to make money on. As if that’s not a person who lives on social media or the internet in general these days. As if we could get a whole country to think of the same thing as cool, as if the trends don’t manifest themselves online.
There is an enjoyable underlying weirdness to the characters that I find particularly endearing. The characters aren’t wearing their weirdness as a character trait, not unless it’s a plot point. They just happen to be a bit off from “normal” because of what they enjoy or how they make money or because they just are.
I like Pattern Recognition, but at least part of that is because it is so particular to its time and I want to spend time with the characters in their weirdnesses. Recommended because of these things.