The Great Millennial Novel?

Finally, I think we have a book worthy of being called the first “Millennial Generation Novel.” Finally!

“Attention. Deficit. Disorder.” initially struck me as a gimmicky book, meant to capitalize on the popular Dave Eggers style of mixed-media, mixed-form, mixed-genre fiction. The sentences are short, choppy, and there are constant interruptions, introducing dictionary definitions and strange historical tangents. The author, Brad Listi, is obviously trying to re-create the experience of information overload, but the first few chapters just seemed so obvious. Why did we need 350 pages more, then? And would this novel wind up using the form for a real function, or was it–as I said–just a gimmick?

My thoughts changed several times as I was reading (which is an interesting statement, itself). Sometimes I felt as if the form lent perfectly to the character, as he attempted to figure out his life and was distracted at the point of every meaningful realization (perfect!). But sometimes I just felt as if the author was over-indulging in the interesting form that he had created.

Listi, though, manages to wrap this novel up perfectly. The characters and ideas all come together to finally give us (yes) a meaningful overall resolution, without forcing the character into tying up all loose ends in his life. Just as some decent movies are devalued by their sequels, I think that the conclusion to Listi’s novel strengthens all that came before it. In other words, the jury is still out until the final few pages, but it is a testament to the writer that he maintains the form consistently, and that there is a payoff to the information overload form (thus justifying the form itself, and rendering moot any question over “gimmicks”).

And this is the reason that this book is the first novel to honestly portray the youth generation of America, those ages 15-25 or so, the Millennial Generation. Dave Eggers, I think, offered us one of the best depictions of Generation X life with his “Heartbreaking Work,” but his “You Shall Know Our Velocity!” was a boring and stale attempt to do the same thing for a slightly younger age bracket. Every young writer, I think, dreams of writing an “On the Road” for his/her generation, and Eggers was no exception…except that his version stunk. Listi gives it a go, also, but actually manages to capture the intelligence and the restless energy of Millennials without condescending to them at all.

The Millennial Generation is one that, I think, everyone in the mainstream media is struggling to characterize (if for no other reason than marketing purposes), but few are actually trying to empathize with. Just because they’re privileged and entitled does not mean that they do not have real human issues…the glut of resources and options available to them has become frightening, crippling, and sometimes even the most basic decisions are impossible for them. “Attention. Deficit. Disorder.” is the first book to actually capture this condition, not to simply scoff at it or to be amused by it.

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