Microserfs and Me

The one physical book I packed in my suitcase this summer to bring with me to Austria was Douglas Coupland’s Microserfs. I’d picked the book up in my favorite used book store/coffee shop because while thumbing through it I saw the phrase “Todd called me a cryptofascist today.” and had that particular experience where you just know a book is for you.

It took me several months to finish the book, which is rare for me especially considering its length. But Microserfs is a slow book where it felt like I was coming back to hear from friends about the past week of their life whenever I checked in. There’s no grand buildup of tension and little dramatic conflict. As many reviewers have pointed out: nothing happens!

This book should have been boring. Instead it become a sort of phenomenon among my friend group as we passed my used copy around, each of us reading it in turn and having it resonate with us. It was our cultural touchstone.

Part of this was that “right time” connection—a book about average (ish), college educated, mid-twenty-year-olds floating in that strange time period where the future and purpose is hazy really echoed my friend group’s current lifestyle. We’re all in that exact position, possessing a job that has a two-year time limit which is long enough to not worry day to day about what we’re doing next but unable to avoid figuring out the next step because the pressure of that concept known as adulthood is floating on the horizon of the end of our time here.

Microserfs made me think about the traditional plot structure of novels and how I’m starting to like books that don’t follow this construction.

And it isn’t just “realism” I’m talking about. I’ve read a lot of books that aren’t fantasy or about wildly rich and famous people that focus on the daily life of people. Most of these books though still follow the pattern of conflict and conflict resolution (at least). There’s character development. There’s a breaking point. Something to overcome.

While there are points in my life where I have experienced the kind of drama that novels are written on it’s all in the past; my day to day life is “boring.” I go to work. I see my friends. I cook dinner (maybe, if I’m feeling inspired enough), read a book, talk with my roommate. This is the schedule that Microserfs follows—these small in between moments.

If I had to paint a picture of this book, it would be that space where you’re sitting on the back porch with a small group of close friends, drinking beer or cider at twilight, having pseudo-philosophical conversation and laughing, kicking back chairs onto two legs, while music plays. It’s a peaceful scene, but one that I’ve treasured more and more. A quietness with the fortitude of human connection.

I want to read books where the characters don’t scream at each other. I want to read books where there’s no crises in a relationship but instead something steady and positive is presented (not without difficulty, but not tumultuous). The characters in Microserfs come across as real people, which is a credit to Coupland. They’re complex, have senses of humor, muse on life, and steadily pass their days.

There’s inter and intra-personal conflict but it isn’t fireworks in Mircroserfs, it’s a volcano that simmers occasionally but never erupts. Characters are hurt and hurt each other but not that much. I find it hard to explain this. Most of the relationships in Microserfs are presented as healthy and strong.

The story also lacks a clear antagonist. Perhaps the antagonist is the vague institution of capitalism or finding meaning. This conflict, though, isn’t necessarily resolved. The characters are left mostly in the same position the book began with. There’s no clear-cut lightning bolt of purpose that strikes the main character or major change he makes to his life that precipitates this finding of meaning (as in, jumping on an airplane to fly to a different country to “find himself”).

For some of us, finding meaning in our lives is not going to involve quitting our job, jumping on a plane, and having a spiritual journey. Instead it’s a grind against apathy, against the feelings of inadequacy in a world beyond our control, and the suffering the callous and random tragedies we’ll encounter and our friends will face. That’s not always extraordinary.

I do recognize my privilege in that statement. I’m not in the position where commonplace life is about survival. Life is somewhere in the middle—not filled with riches or lofty aspirations, earning enough to comfortably pay my rent every month, and so on. I’m lucky that monotonous living is the challenge I have to overcome.

But monotony does leave me asking: where’s the point?

The resolution of Mircoserfs comes down to this idea, “here we are, whole.” Despite the aimlessness, the conflict, past traumas, and despite where the winding road of life takes us, what happens, good and bad, all of us simply are. It’s enough.

Not a lofty message, maybe not even an exciting one, but it’s sunk into my bones. Microserfs dark horsed its way onto my top ten list of last year and I still think about it even though it has a plot that’s more similar to driving along an open highway in Wyoming on cruise control with nothing in sight than conquering a mountain and descending the other side, but I’m here for that stretched out haze of time.

 

 

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Small Update-Update

Hey everyone! Sorry the blog was asleep this past week. I have a friend in town visiting me and we’ve been traveling a lot and meeting up with people so I’ve not had a lot of down time to write up a blog post, let alone read (my …totals….the TOTALS!).

Tomorrow I’m off for another travel stint but a post will come up tomorrow and (hopefully) next Friday as well.

I’m working on a big ol boy on MedeaGone Girl, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Ex Machina which I hope to have by the end of the month as well and am v excited about.

Hope everyone is having a nice summer so far! I spent all of yesterday in the garden, drinking cider and chatting with friends which is the ideal summer dream…

May 2017: Round-up

I had my last day of work on Wednesday, which means I’m free to pursue all sorts of other activities now. Like laying in bed all day reading. Drinking Spritzers on the lake. Finding ways to avoid working on all the projects I told myself I’d catch up on once I was free.

June will be a bittersweet month for me. It’s my last month in Austria! What waits for me back home? (Probably reverse culture shock, tbh. I’ve been in Austria since Fall of 2015 for the most part.)

I read a lot of heartbreaking books this month… I don’t want to highlight them because of potential spoilers but WOW some major character deaths affected me. I’m determined to escape to happier books for a while–only light-hearted romantic comedies from here on out! (I saw, binge watching a bunch of dark True Crime documentaries)…

For someone who doesn’t read historical fiction or care that much about Jack the Ripper I enjoyed Stalking Jack the Ripper a surprising amount. Noteworthy is the “She’s the Man” and “Pitch Perfect” mashup we didn’t deserve but were gifted with anyway and The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet soothed my itchiness to play Mass Effect…a bit.

not pictured: Blood for Blood (Ryan Graudin)

Best of May 2017: The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli

I could sing praises for this book until I lost my voice but my singing is terrible so I’ll stick to just sharing a few reasons why Upside was one of the best books I’ve read this year. Albertalli manages to cram so much into this book without it feeling forced. The representation in this book! The amount of times I laughed!

But, I mean the greatest appeal for me in Upside is the main character. Molly openly discusses how it feels to be a fat teenage girl–the way others think of your body, the way people talk about your body, and all the other ways in which people try to police you. Molly doesn’t hate her body but she’s aware of how others may view it. I was so happy to see a character who lived in this space of body acceptance in a way that doesn’t diminish the struggles that young people face even when they don’t think they need to change their bodies.

I think there are a lot of people will find bits and pieces of themselves in Molly. In her wavering confidence, in how it felt to be a teenager looking for their first relationship, and in the friendships in the book. It also has some of the best repartee dialogue that’s just so snappy.

Worst of May 2017: Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

The City & The City sure dodged the Worst of the Month bullet because it was sitting in that position until the end of the month… but I wrote about my feelings for it already so I chose a different book for the slot.

Honestly my main problem with this book is the ending. It’s struggle to figure out how to express this without spoilers but I’m going to give a spoiler warning for stuff under the line even though I’m not going to really be that explicit.

Aside from the plot, I found the writing to be kind of vague and unsatisfying. One of the main criticisms levied by a bunch of people at Upside is that the MC is only obsessed with her crushes and having a boyfriend. But Everything, Everything suffers from this…worse? After the LI is introduced the entire narrative narrows down to only the interactions between those two characters. Many times the MC talks about how her LI is basically her whole world and reason she wishes to live. I’m not sure why Upside was targeted for this and not Everything, except an uncomfortable suspicion that there’s a stronger standard for fat characters to have ‘other interests’ than love.

It feels like there’s so little to the MC outside of her relationship with her LI. All the other facets of her life vanish.


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I thought it was really unfortunate how the representation on this story turned at the end. I think there are people with illnesses  (sort of) like the MC in this book that would have liked to see themselves in the story only for it to turn out the way it did in the end. It cheapened the narrative, IMO.