I’m still reeling from the death of J.D. Salinger, and have wondered if 2010 is going to be for writers what 2009 was for actors (it’s still January and we have already lost Robert Parker, Louis Auchincloss, Howard Zinn, and J.D.). The term “literary lions” has been popping up in various articles, as it had when Mailer and Updike died last year. It got me thinking about what this phrase even means, and if there are modern-day, or future, lions out there.
I had a conversation with my sister yesterday and she told me with sad resignation there were no more Salingers writing today, as in, there are no more “voices of a generation” whose work has the same cultural impact. I disagreed by saying it’s impossible to name of voice of the current generation because it’s not over yet. We need time to determine what’s been said and how it reflects that time. Our judgment of our own generation is automatically, and involuntarily, biased.
I’m not really sure which generation I’m in. I know I’m the “one after Generation X,” but whether that’s Gen Y, Millennial, or The Twitter Generation (which I read once and cringed), I don’t know. I guess it doesn’t matter. I was born on one of those weird “on the cusp of either generation” years anyway, so I’ll just go where they tell me. But, for the purposes of finding someone who speaks for me, I’ll make “me” be anyone between the ages twenty-four and thirty-four.
I suggested to my same-generation sister that Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney, could have been the-post Salinger novel of that time (again, that one “right before” our own), but as for our generation, I wasn’t sure. I think Cormac McCarthy is #1 on the current “literary lion” list, and Michael Chabon will probably win “Most Likely to be Studied in High School English” among his generation (sorry, Franzen). But, do either authors speak for me, child of the Clinton-era, pre-Internet 1990s and adult of the post-911, iTech new millennium? Not really.
Despite having declared finding a voice to my own generation a futile attempt, I’m still curious about your thoughts. Who do you think has the best appeal right now to the young, modern-day experience? There are several characters to whom we can relate our personal triumphs or tragedies, but what about those who represent our place in the world? If other generations can claim them for their collective lives, then there must be at least one out there for “me.”