Book: NVSQVAM (nowhere)
Author: Ann Sterzinger
Type of Book: Fiction, literary fiction
Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: Oh, this book…
Availability: Published by Nine Banded Books in 2011, you can get a copy here:
Amazon currently has this book on sale for Kindle for $2.99. That makes it almost impossible not to take a look.
Comments: There are two reasons to read this book. The first reason is because Sterzinger nails a specific social dissatisfaction I tend to associate with the sorts of men who really love Jonathan Franzen, a sort of Lester Burnham-esque unhappiness that can only be cured by having sex with a much-younger woman and sneering at the daily grind and everyday domesticity. She distills this generational malaise through a single character and refuses to show us the way out, because, most of the time there isn’t one. The other reason to read it is because it is so very funny. Seriously, Sterzinger has the sort of intelligent, acerbic wit that I imagined I had back when I was a drunk.
I think this is a book that will read differently to every person who picks it up. Women of a certain age (hi!) will want to take the protagonist and swat him with a newspaper until he stops pissing and moaning about his life and either accepts it or changes it in a meaningful way, and I wanted to swat him all the more because Lester (yep, Lester) Reichartsen is himself a man of a certain age. He embodies the Gen-X confusion-burnout that I see plaguing so many of my age-peers, coupled with a longing for an edgy past because their passivity and entitlement meant they ended up in a life they really never wanted but didn’t have the balls to reject along the way.
In the beginning, Lester is just one of those people. You know, the ones to whom everything happens and they actually do very little. They feel very put-upon. Lester is more or less living a life he hates that he feels happened to him due to no actions or faults of his own. He hates everyone around him – especially his only child and the religious mid-westerners who surround his college town – and the only things he really accomplishes, aside from a prolonged, drunken nervous breakdown, are taking long walks and engaging in an affair.
Though I find Lester largely irritating and unlikeable, he is not unique in his passive, seething uselessness. Jesus, so many young people born to baby boomer parents ended up like this. Almost all of us were latch-key kids, the post-Reagan economic state seemed hopeless, and we had Pearl Jam running across the stage in baggy shorts making millions of dollars moaning about their mothers, which was sort of understandable because so many of us were raised in divorced, single-parent, female-headed households. Some young men raised in such an environment felt buffeted by fate, as if everything they wanted would never happen and they entered a post-collegiate life with no idea what to do next. Get married? Yeah, that worked so well for our parents. Get a good job? But aren’t we supposed to find our bliss and honor our talents? Didn’t our parents raise us to honor our deep individuality (while giving us little assistance in determining how to put that individuality to use)? Get a factory job? None are left. The world changed so much in such a short period of time that all the lessons many Gen-xers were taught were obsolete the day after they became adults.
It’s tempting to write Lester off as a self-involved crap-fest of a human being, but even as I wanted to grab his nose between my index and middle finger and twist it violently, I felt a certain level of empathy for him. He almost seems like an embodiment of the sentiment expressed in Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club – we were all told we were going to be rock stars and when that didn’t happen it pissed off large segments of this generation. So many of us feel like we have failed our families, ourselves and especially our past, idealistic selves. What do we do about that rage and real failure? To avoid that sense of failure, wounded egos become passive, taking paths of least resistance, so they can say that they aren’t responsible for anything in their lives – that’s how we end up with Lesters. Lester Reichartsen is a self-absorbed, largely useless asshole but he’s our asshole, my generation’s asshole. You can’t hobble large segments of a generation and then hold them completely responsible for limping.