Posted By jatyler - 13th July 2011
I assume the word ‘generation’ implies a collection of people that were born and raised during certain eras in specific countries by a previous generation that has their own special name. But there are constants between the generations that must be recognized, everybody from every generation shits, eats, needs shelter, has sex, and doesn’t enjoy when bad things happen.
So the questions are: how do they shit, how did they inhabit those shelters, how did they have sex, and respond to bad things. I guess those are the questions, and here is a really long answer.
This is from the preface to Noah Cicero’s latest novel, Best Behavior, recently released from the experimentally focused indie press Civil Coping Mechanisms. The idea was that Cicero would sit at a Waffle House, re-read those books most commonly believed to have defined their generations (The Sun Also Rises, The Great Gatsby, etc.), and try to write his own generation-defining novel. And while I do not believe that Best Behavior is a book that defines our generation, it is a book that describes and classifies a portion of our generation, and even more specifically, a portion of our portion of writers, spread as they are between New York and places like Cicero’s Youngstown, Ohio.
Best Behavior is simultaneously autobiography and simple narrative, with a heavy emphasis on the pull of genealogy, the roots that have grown beneath people and how they keep them sometimes pinned where they are not sure they want to remain. This is the protagonist’s dilemma throughout Best Behavior, attempting to both understand where he is from and come to terms with where he is (or is not) heading. The memoir feel of Best Behavior is in fact this same predicament, but from Cicero’s perspective instead of our protagonist’s, as they are, really, one and the same.
Our fathers weren’t much. They would come home from work and take naps. They would bring us to a baseball game and not talk to us while we were there. Sometimes they would beat us for being annoying. Over half of my generation’s fathers had left them with their bitter mothers. It wasn’t terrible. We were Americans and had food, air-conditioning, and indoor plumbing. But people for whatever reason like to have their fathers around. And they like their fathers not to be jackasses. Which was a problem because consumerist attention deficit disorder based societies produce in mass jackasses. But we still like our jackasses to be around.
The most significant moments in Best Behavior are when Cicero allows the narrative to drift the farthest into this examination of lineage or pedigree, most specifically that of mothers and fathers (and lost mothers and fathers), and how relationships like these so often define who we are as young men and women. And in the end, after giving us so much about how life is hard and bad and rough and how so much of this hardness and badness and roughness is to be blamed on heredity, Cicero tells us that this ancestry is our fate, our destiny if we can be so cliché, and that escaping our roots is learning what they are instead of traveling states away, hoping to outrun them.
There was my father who carried huge cow carcasses from meat lockers to the cutting table, with his arms bulging and his face wincing. There was my mother working in the GM plant for 33 years. The people on the subway were not my people. I felt no hostility towards them. They had grown up somewhere different, with a different set of labor and world views offered to them. They had to take it. I had to take mine. It was our fate.
[ stay tuned for our interview with Noah Cicero in the coming days ]