- By Daniel Torday
- St. Martin's Press
- 352 pp.
- Reviewed by Josh Denslow
- October 12, 2019
This literary take on the generational divide puts a contemporary spin on the Delphic maxim, “Know Thyself.”
Mark Brumfeld can't get a job. And like any good Millennial, he brings his anger to the Internet. But he doesn't blame himself, of course. That would be crazy! Instead, he blames the Baby Boomers for not relinquishing their jobs to the next generation.
Unable to see any irony in his decision, Mark moves into his Boomer parents' basement, dons a David Crosby mask, and uploads videos to YouTube where he bemoans his folks' generation: "They live in big houses. They own the goods that all that resplendent treasure afforded them. They have the jobs. They have all the jobs."
In Daniel Torday's Boomer1, that is only the melody to lure you in.
Mark's videos soon go viral. A movement springs up around him wherein copycat videos begin appearing, replete with Mark's signature hooks: "Resist much, obey little. Propaganda by the deed. Boom."
Websites are hacked. Famous Baby Boomers’ addresses are released. Possible violent plots are hatched. But not by Mark. Even the movement he accidentally started leaves him behind. It was supposed to be about him, and then he was forgotten. Again.
But it's not hatred for the Boomers that triggers Mark's descent into his parents' basement. It's when his bandmate Cassie turns down his marriage proposal. And that's what makes this novel so appealing: Most of the battle between the generations happens offstage while we’re treated to the rich dynamics between Mark, Cassie, and Mark's mother, Julia, all of whom share a love of music.
Mark and Cassie play in a bluegrass band together, and Cassie also plays bass in rock bands on the side. They both just made the cut-off to be considered Millennials. It's an important distinction because, at a certain point, they need to be Millennials for Mark's missives about the Boomer generation to be meaningful.
An interesting dichotomy develops as Mark careens into unemployment and a long-term stay in his childhood home, while Cassie falls into an extremely high-paying fact-checking job at a start-up with a bocce ball court and an open workspace. Two very different Millennial tracks that both lead to self-hatred.
While Julia's sections may not achieve the same crescendos as the younger characters’, her ruminations provide a welcome counterpoint. In particular, I enjoyed the way she tracks her liberal, rock-star background, which started with playing loud concerts and ended with her nearly complete hearing loss and politically conservative existence in the suburbs.
The dialogue is stellar, and humor dances through everything like a countermelody. Cassie sparkles with observational sarcasm, and her journey into the strange start-up world and her relationship with "on the spectrum" colleague Regan were my favorite parts of the novel. Mark is a bit dense, and his self-absorption makes him a poor judge of other people, which leads to problems in the third act.
In the end, Boomer1 isn’t about Baby Boomers and Millennials. It's about people trying to discover themselves, even if that means starting a revolution. Because we can always put on a mask and change our name, but we can't change who we really are.
[Editor's note: This review originally ran in 2018.]
Josh Denslow’s debut short-story collection, Not Everyone Is Special, will be published in 2019 by 7.13 Books. He plays the drums in the band Borrisokane and edits at SmokeLong Quarterly.