Once upon a time (oh-so many decades ago), Baby Boomers captured the attention of writers. That time is waning as the next fascination generation crowds at their aging heels. But if Boomers seemed to be a relatively homogenous group, Millennials are not so easily pegged. Recently, I read two novels that staked their ground at opposite ends of the field, with one going all in on the entitled, technophile, socially inept version and the other with it’s opposite—the hyper-competitive, no filter, uber-consumer. Well done satire could make either of these hilarious reading, but sadly, that didn’t happen.
Sociable by Rebecca Harrington
Published by Doubleday Books
Publication date: March 27, 2018
Genres: Debut, Chick Lit, Contemporary, New Adult
Elinor is in her mid-twenties and finds herself stuck in that post-college, too real-world rut. She lives in NYC with her boyfriend Mike and her degree in journalism is not panning out the way she thought it would—she’s a nanny. When she finally does get a writing job it’s for a website called Journalism.ly, but the content is solely memes and lists like 15 Things Only People Obsessed with Coffee Know. All that matters is how many clicks her posts get. Mike, on the other hand, gets a job writing real, long form political pieces—the kind of thing they’ve both dreamed about, and soon after cracks begin appearing in their relationship. In Rebecca Harrington’s debut novel, Sociable nothing much in life feels satisfying for Elinor. Where’s the fun and success that is supposed to come with being an adult?
In short order Mike moves out. Even though it’s early in the novel, this is not a surprise and should be a welcome relief to Elinor because he is a manipulative, passive-aggressive tool who gets mad at her and then cries when she responds to his criticism. Elinor flounders and even the complexity of office politics and having a real job doesn’t take up enough of her mind and time to keep her from stalking him. The novel becomes bad chick-lit with Elinor never venturing further into self-awareness than trying to figure out how to get Mike back.
Some new adult situations felt more real—crappy jobs, long hours, indecision about life choices, dreadful tiny apartments or annoying roommates, but by-and-large every character in Sociable is a nightmare. Even worse, the novel ended with a jarring spasm of action and resolution, but no real understanding. I didn’t believe anything Elinor said. She appeared to be somewhere on the spectrum, but so did everyone in the novel—which I might feel bad about pointing out if the author had made it clear that they all did have some form of autism. Instead, she seems to be playing the apologist by breaking the fourth wall and addressing the reader:
Perhaps, the reader might be questioning why Elinor was so obsessed with Mike even though he never answered any of her emails and maybe had another girlfriend. Shouldn’t she just move on? They didn’t even have that good of a relationship! Readers, I don’t know what to tell you.
If Sociable is meant to feed into the worst Millennial stereotypes then it is wildly successful. As a cranky old baby boomer, I found myself cringing throughout the majority of the novel because the characters were unable to talk to each other, cannot listen, and found something as simple as eye contact beyond their capabilities. I have often wondered how the children who grew up interacting electronically would be able to succeed and thrive in the world when forced to communicate face-to-face. As found in Sociable, they can’t.
Sophia of Silicon Valley by Anna Yen
Published by William Morrow
Publication date: April 10, 2018
Genres: Debut, Contemporary, New Adult
In direct contrast to the hapless, helpless, dreary Elinor, Sophia Young is a dynamo. She is the force at the center of Anna Yen’s debut novel, Sophia of Silicon Valley. She speaks her mind (sometimes too much), has an enviable work ethic, and dresses well to boot. So, she still lives at home, even though she has a good job and is twenty-five. Her parents are old-school Taiwanese and her diabetes makes them even protective of her. When her lack of filter gets her fired from a Silicon Valley investment bank, her momentum is hardly slowed at all. She networks until a friend gets her a paralegal job at a prestigious law firm which she parlays into a position as the head of investor relations for an animated movie studio about to go public. How far can she go in an industry dominated by testosterone?
Yen completes a nice sleight of hand in Sophia of Silicon Valley. In the novel’s first page Sophia shares that she works in such high-powered environments because it is
“A path to the white picket fence, two kids (preferably twins), and the Mrs. Homemaker lifestyle I’d wanted ever since I could remember.”
Lines like this, so soon in any book, tend to be an indicator as to how things are going to go, so I settled in and prepared for some frothy, light-hearted, chick-lit fun. Instead, Yen confounds expectations and patterns Sophia like her male counterparts in the real world—intrigued by power and determined to succeed. The notion about getting married fades by the novel’s midpoint and after that it is more a case of how to balance any relationship with the turbo powered demands of her job. With each page Sophia becomes more assertive and certain of her abilities which is refreshing.
Given this agility it’s unfortunate that, overall, Sophia of Silicon Valley struggles with its sense of rhythm. It lurches between lighter comedy and something more serious without ever feeling comfortable in either. There is humor but it’s not always funny. This might be less problematic if the novel didn’t fall prey to one of my pet peeves—the need for a strong editor and less plot. Apparently, it is based on Yen’s own life, which might explain some of the marginal characters and personal details that feel shoehorned into the story. They would make great material for a memoir, but impede the strong Sophia, who can stand on her own.
These novels fell short in reflecting new adult Millennials, but are two that worked better: StartUp and Fake Plastic Love. I’d love to hear if anyone has recommendations for fiction that better represents this generation.