Cassie Black and Mark Brumfeld are two of the three main characters through whom we experience the story in Boomer1. The other is Mark’s mother Julia. All three pursued a musical career and came up short in different ways. Mark dreamed of the academic life, writing articles and teaching, a distinguished professor. Sadly, he was born too late, well after the commodification of higher education that replaced tenured positions with adjunct professors, academic serfs who would earn more as a barista. Cassie played in a band with a woman she loved but when replaced by another, she fell into a convenient musical-hetero affair with Mark, work plus parental approval in one. However, even Mark’s mother could see Julia was attracted to women and she soon was offered a high-paying job fact-checking listicles and such. Julia probably was more successful with her music, joining a band headlined by one of her heroes, but then getting to know your heroes is always disappointing.
Mark’s financial precarity forces him to move home and become the millennial stereotype living in his parents’ basement. He fixates on Cassie, his unrequited love more fierce than his love when they were together. “That was the trouble with having love smeared all over the inside of you . You could wash all you wanted and your fingers were still bound to be greasy.” He cannot get over her. Even more stereotypical he begins ranting on the internet. He calls himself Boomer1 and rants about the Boomers who have the jobs, the money, the power and won’t make way for young people. He has a point.
On my list of Books I Want to Read But Have Not Found the TIme is “A Generation of Sociopaths” by Bruce cannon Gibney. It’s a nonfiction work marshaling the evidence, should we need it, that the Baby Boomer generation has been singularly blessed and singularly selfish, reaping the benefits of post-war civic investment and prosperity and refusing to do for their children and grandchildren what was done for them.
Boomer1 is a difficult book to evaluate. In many ways, it so very banal, but that gives it an authenticity, capturing the boring tedium of their lives. You would think with a whole movement kicked off by Mark’s internet rants, his life would be exciting, but it’s not. He works as a barista and sounds off on the internet. Cassie’s life shrinks as her salary expands. She goes from thinking of writing to fact-checking to listicles to video editing, leaving behind words almost completely. Julia becomes increasing deaf and increasingly tired of her son no matter how much she loves him. It’s all quite ordinary and sad.
But, sometimes Torday so perfectly captures the zeitgeist. For example, Mark becomes captive to the screen. “There was a lot of journalism, a lot of information well packaged, well written, and well researched, that didn’t pass his purview when he had sat at his computer, waiting for social media to tell him what he should read next. Though he had given his twenties over to editing a magazine, somehow he’d now come to prioritize the speed and impermanence of what he saw on his computer, same as everyone else.”
Time and again, Torday wrote something so perfectly beautiful, I paused to just enjoy the words. For example, “The ailanthus trees spilled green oval leaves on the ground like they were undressing, and when Regan didn’t invite Cassie back up to her place, Cassie had no choice but to walk back to her own apartment, feeling jealous at the scantily clad trees the whole way back.” Sometimes Torday’s mordant take on modernity just struck me as perfect, such as when Julia’s husband takes her to a symphony playing the Grateful Dead and she is appalled, as she sees herself among the crowd “of not aging hippies but old people, people who had decades before fought their fights and strove their striving and now were in a position to sit in a concert hall on a Friday night in Baltimore and let the teeth be extracted from the music that mattered to them most…”
This is a strange book. There’s so much to like about the writing, but the story and the characters are not nearly as interesting as the words.
I received an e-galley of Boomer1 from the publisher through NetGalley.