Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Serve the Rich! A Comment on Ann Beattie

I'm a sucker for book lists. I was scanning the latest list from Slate, of the best books of 2010 and found Ann Beattie's New Yorker Stories listed.

Now I will admit that I am an Ann Beattie fan, and an avid reader of both The New Yorker and of the contemporary American short story more generally. (It helps sustain my appreciation that Ann's husband, Lincoln Perry, was my first painting teacher, in 1976).

So I was struck by this line:

Beattie's characters of the '70s are young people foundering in nostalgia and quiet loss, trying to figure out how to move forward in a world where every choice is open but no markers of adulthood seem fixed.

I think the situation is much worse today, especially after the recession. And I don't think things will get better anytime soon.

The young coming of age in the 2010s are finding that no markers of adulthood seem any more fixed than in 1970, and yet very few choices are open. In the 1970s you could still go to college and grad school, study something you loved, and eventually maybe find a job you loved, too. But those pathways were already shutting down.

Today a few who are bright, ambitious, and vicious enough can "move forward" working for and serving the rich -- in investment banking, gourmet food, high fashion, personal coaching or whatever. I recently read one of those US News items of "news you can use" about future careers (I have a twenty year old son in college) and the advice was "serve the rich - they're going to be the only ones left with any money."

Nostalgia has given way to postmodern irony or worse, cynicism, and quiet loss has in many cases been replaced by desperation.

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