For some reason, I seem to be gravitating toward “angry young man” novels lately. It may be because I’m going through a kind of angry phase myself, although I’d like to think of this time of my life as more of a maudlin overly-sentimentalized period of goopy self-reflection.
At one time angry young man books were largely externalized; kind of a nihilistic working-class hero, bucking the system “I’m gonna kick your ass” type of story. The protagonist was beaten by society, so he decided to beat back. The novels were brutal reflections of the cultural changes that were occurring in industrialized nations, especially Britain and the U.S. Think Ken Kesey and Anthony Burgess.
Today, angry young man novels are more inwardly-focused. The protagonist is still angry, but he usually turns his anger upon himself. He’s an abrasive, self-destructive loner who destroys all relationships. He either grows-up and repairs the damage he has caused or continues his downward spiral toward oblivion. These novels are also a reflection of current societal changes and the disconnect we feel with the world today. While we might be part of the so-called “global community,” we feel more isolated and lonelier than ever before. Think Bret Easton Ellis and Chuck Palahniuk.
Angry young man novels are not be confused with “lad lit,” the masculine equivalent to “chick lit” (excuse me, I just gagged a little while typing those two words). Angry young man novels rely on more than the usual “chick lit” plot devices focusing on attractive twenty or thirty-somethings looking for and eventually finding true love. Nick Hornby is the god of “lad lit.”
I think that our current crop of angry young man novelists have more to say to us than any other writers out there. They, more than than anyone, have tapped into what it means to be living in the world today: the “alone in a crowd” sense of sadness that can creep over us at the strangest times; the feeling that we are struggling to reach some unttainable summit (but we don’t even know which mountain we’re climbing); the frightening rush toward the unknown and unknowable abyss which is the only thing we all have in common. They have something to show us, and it’s important. This is why I keep reading and enjoying their novels.
I was going to review Goodbye Lemon today, but then I got off on this tangent. Oops! In my defense, Goodbye Lemon is an angry young man novel, so I began thinking about and writing this before I could get started on the review. So, for now, Goodbye Lemon!