I think it’s safe to say when you knot weeds together on the playground while all of the other children are playing cops and robbers, or even better, the princess and the evil troll under the bridge, you’re a hipster. Therefore, I have known this fact my entire life, before I even had a title.
Fishnets and bow pumps on the first day of school. Painted converses with inspiring French words (J’espere, which means hope, expect or trust, see Dad, I did learn something after all of those years of French), a girl who looks better even in black rimmed glasses that she bought on ebay, this is a hipster. It’s true definition. I still get called a hipster by the English faculty that I work with, but only in recent years did this truly odd and eccentric kid have a title. In high school, I was just that weird girl with swim hair, but no one ever picked on me because I grew up with those people. One of those boys, Mr. West, happened to be the prince running with sword atop the castle bridge.
If I’m being honest, I’m a little bit peeved at what the ficksters are doing (you know, those fake hipsters that weren’t born for this) and how tumblr has created this fictional universe of hipsters with beanies and typography skills by second grade, but the true downfall of hipster culture so far, is the literature. If you don’t have a strong fastening to Hamlet’s Ophelia, then you can’t be a true hipster. If you don’t like Salinger, if you haven’t ever had bangs, if you weren’t jealous of kids with braces or had braces yourself, if you never cut your own holes into pants or didn’t at one time want to own a fish eye camera, you’re not a hipster. HOWEVER, you’re really not a hipster if you haven’t read beaucoups of literature from the American Northwest.
These authors include, but are not limited to: Ursula K. LeGuin, Chuck Palahniuk, Beverly Cleary, Donald Miller, Dorianne Laux (in her old school), Joseph Millar, anyone that aspires to be in Tin House, Colin Meloy and his wife, Sherman Alexie, Alexis M. Smith, and Theodore Roethke. (Please believe this was as many as I could think of at this moment, definitely add anymore awesome American Northwestern authors in the comments). If you haven’t met Prue from Wildwood, by Colin Meloy and his wife as illustrator, then you haven’t really dived into the idea of hipster literature. Prue definitely doesn’t bother me, however, the newest hipster literature is starting to make me nervous.
The book that I’m most nervous about is Where’d You Go, Bernadette? I didn’t just not like this book, I’m seriously worried about the future of fiction due to the popularity of this book. It’s a post Goon Squad hodgepodge of letters, emails, receipts, text messages, conversations, bills, TED talks, and tickets. Basically any sort of scrap of paper that added a minute of story, the author added. This wasn’t the true problem I had with the book, although it was just as annoying as forty pages of powerpoint in Goon Squad. I’m pretty sure that Little Brown had Goon Squad in mind when they were like, “Yes, let’s go ahead and publish all the things that this writer could find in her purse and put in a book. It’ll be just like Goon Squad, and hey, that won a Pulitzer.” They weren’t thinking of that girl in small-town America that was p-i-s-s-e-d about that Pulitzer win. I’m still a little angry and that was two years ago.
Where’d You Go, Bernadette is Goon Squad set in a reality that isn’t actually real. There’s no way that this book would ever happen. There’s no woman whiny enough, or hidden enough to win a huge architectural award and then go into hiding, only to ship herself to Antarctica. What children even have dreams of going to Antarctica, in fact, what students in 8th grade are writing so many essays that they have multiple topics on Antarctica. I could go on, I could really unveil the lack of magic in this one, but so many people loved it that I’m having trouble putting my words together. THIS BOOK COULD NEVER HAPPEN. Not in the way that it’s fantasy and I know going in that it’s going to place me completely into some sort of magical realm and the characters will be the Jackie Chan of magical realms being that they can fight off three hundred dark forces with their good friends and a small forehead scar, but in the way that it’s masked as realistic fiction and yet, it’s completely unreal.
I wish I could have a fight with a neighbor big enough to park a billboard in my backyard, but that’s 1. against most American city codes, and 2. what person who refuses to leave her house is still passive aggressive enough to yell her feelings in a large metal sign. Not only were the characters completely annoying, even Bee who is this model American child set against the “druggie” neighbor kid, but Bernadette is half crazy, and half silent and Elgin with his barefooted TED talk is the model for geek hipsters everywhere, only he isn’t quite the father everyone hoped him to be. Even Bernadette’s secret shopper, Manjula, doesn’t fit expectations. I don’t even like these people. I don’t want to know them in real life. I will never trust robotics coming out of Microsoft (not that I would anyway). The only nonrealistic aspect of this book that I actually liked was the description of the Hollywood home that Bernadette built out of welded retired spectacles and dust.
Maybe I just have the wrong type of humor. Maybe this is a book where those of us in the sarcasm vein sit in helpless annoyance at the fact that everyone is obsessed with this book in a sort of “Let me instagram my coffee, and put this book in it so I look smart and like I know popular literature” sort of way. Wait until I write a good review to unfollow, kindly.
But it gets better, then there’s the plot which all ends in a trick of the author’s hand that the reader can see coming from four paragraphs in. DUH, Maria Semple, DUH. What the hell was that. Bee has a mysterious envelope and then we find out that the whole story was written by an 8th grader. Screw you, it felt like an 8th grader wrote this with its lack of expected twists and turns, and it’s unrealistic ideas about life. I’m not even sure I can appreciate the theme of this story which is inevitably hope and rebirth because it’s bogged down with bullshit. I don’t feel sympathy for Bernadette, she wasn’t someone who I rooted for throughout the novel which really limited my reading of the book, but I also didn’t like anyone. Literally. I want to know none of these people and I never want to join a PTA.
I will scoff at those lists that ask me to bring chips to my child’s second grade party.
I will also run over someone’s foot if they approach my car in the car pool line. Perhaps, with readers like me, this is the most realistic part.
If I read one more review where someone calls this “clever,” I will start turning over the cover on bookstore shelves so that people scan right over it, a la my tactic with every Jodi Picoult book, ever. And for all you people who said this was “Chick Lit,” what would “Dick Lit” look like if this is chick lit. I agree that chick lit exists, as disappointed as that makes me, but I definitely don’t think this can be put into that category. Is it because there’s a whiny stay at home mom as the main character, or the reader has to struggle through what some people like to call “women’s issues” because that makes the feminist in me want to rip your throat out. I would probably never stick up for this book, but I will stick up for the fact that it’s not “Chick Lit” just because it deals mostly in the head of a woman that is slowly unveiling her long lasting personal problems.
If this is where valued literature is going then I’m going to have to start shopping the flea market and building a fall out shelter for the apocalitpse (other possible names for this could be: reapocalypse, wordcalypse, and I got nothin’). Seriously. Let me collect the literary, poetic literature of Philip Roth and build a dew-less shelter underneath the house with glass air conditioned book shelves to keep them vibrant for years. It will be the Alexander the Great library of the South. No more poor hipster literature, or books that people just carry to look like they’re aware of popular culture, but more books that are literary driven with themes that actually change the way people view the world. Her book may stay on the “Best Seller” shelf for a while, but this will not be a book that people remember in five years.
*Footnote: I love Arrested Development. Semple’s book writing abilities have nothing on the quirk and perfect casting of that show. I refuse to believe that I should like this book, just because Arrested Development is one of the best television shows that has happened sense Seinfeld.