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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction



The Boomer

by
Marty Asher


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase The Boomer



Title: The Boomer
Author: Marty Asher
Genre: Novel
Written: 2000
Length: 160 pages
Availability: The Boomer - US
The Boomer - UK
The Boomer - Canada
  • Illustrated and designed by Chip Kidd

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Our Assessment:

B- : attractive but insubstantial trifle

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Christian Science Monitor D 22/6/2000 Ron Charles
The LA Times B- 9/7/2000 Hal Espen
The NY Times Book Rev. . 11/6/2000 Erik Burns

  From the Reviews:
  • "(A) trite little illustrated novel being heavily marketed by Knopf (.....) The author, Marty Asher, has assembled his everyman tale in a series of 101 very short chapters - most are only a couple sentences. Imagine "Dick and Jane" with more cynicism and less Spot." - Ron Charles, Christian Science Monitor

  • "Given the unsuppressed hostility -- the veritable death wish -- that the novel directs at its antiheroic stereotype, The Boomer can be best understood as a roman à clef driven by an oblique anger at the generational theorizing that has been a dominant feature of our cultural landscape over the last 25 years." - Hal Espen, The Los Angeles Times

  • "Perhaps this ballyhooed generation is indeed superficial, and this man its Everyman. If that's the case, a longer, complex novel isn't really necessary -- this brief sketch will do." - Erik Burns, The New York Times Book Review

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Marty Asher's book does fill a fair number of pages -- as it well might, with its 101 chapters. Each chapter, however, is a mere paragraph, and not a one of them exceeds 80 words in length. In fact, the "novel" is about as long as a decent-sized short story, and could easily (if not tidily) have been stuffed in the pages of a magazine.
       It appears instead in book form, heavily padded by the neat illustrations of Chip Kidd. Making for an aesthetically appealing little volume. Pretty it might be, but one can't quite escape the feeling that it is a gussied up children's book for adults. Or at least for boomers. What with their eyesight slowly going, and their minds possibly not quite up to the strains of reading dense prose, this compact little fiction seems literally tailor-made for them.
       Brevity and concision are generally to be commended, and perhaps readers living in this fast-paced world should be grateful that Mr. Asher has provided a book which condenses a whole life (and, in a sense, a whole generation) into so few words. Here is a book that can be literally read between subway stops, that requires less of an attention span than a single half-hour television sit-com -- indeed, that resembles nothing so much as the opening credits of the average sit-com, a flash of scenes and brief impressions that nevertheless sum up the whole enterprise.
       The Boomer recounts the life -- birth to burial -- of an unnamed man whose life followed the typical trajectory of what is called the baby boomer generation, the post-war (World War II, that is) generation of which author Asher, born 1945, is also a member. The one hundred vignettes (the one hundred and first (and last) chapter is not such a vignette) from his life are brief pictures and pieces, describing many aspects of his life. Important events and lesser ones are presented equally, with little embellishment, offering the very small sum of a lifetime.
       The boomer is a successful student, gets a good job (it's never exactly clear what he does), marries, moves from apartment to better apartment to suburban house, has a son. He has the trappings of success, but there is some disillusionment as well. He changes jobs, changes women, changes his outlook. He gets sick. He dies.
       The kinks in the road are not unexpected. The boomer tries LSD in school. The boomer undergoes therapy, the boomer has a few affairs (including one with a man). The boomer's son is gay. The dog dies.
       Most remarkable about the text is the sense of alienation: no one has a name, everyone is described in terms of their relationship to the boomer. People appear without background (and disappear into the void of the background). We do learn, however, that "the boomer's first car was a blue Datsun with 45,000 miles on it", his "second car was a white Volvo station wagon", and the third "a red Saab convertible."
       The book also refuses to acknowledge history. It is written as though the boomer lived in an ahistorical vacuum. Only a few aspects of the culture around him are touched upon, vaguely grounding him in the times. Significantly, politics is entirely avoided: there is no mention of any of the post-war issues touching the nation, and there is very little sense of any of them even being in the air. Civil rights issues and conflicts, Viet Nam, the Cold War, or even banalities like the space programme have no place here. The most revealing sentence in this regard is one of the first -- the boomer's grandfather "had rearranged the family name to make it sound more American." Beyond that it is almost impossible to localize the novel in the United States. The boomer and his wife celebrate an anniversary in Europe, but even that contrast is not expounded on beyond that there "people didn't work as hard and seemed to enjoy life more."
       The absence of any sense of history is incongruous and troublesome -- the boomer floats too freely in this made-up space. It seems absurd, for example, that there is no mention of the boomer doing (or avoiding) military service.
       Asher does not, however, entirely avoid any markers -- choosing cultural rather than historical ones. Early on there is a list of some of the albums the boomer collects during his lifetime (he collects 219 of them, with Miles Davis and the Rolling Stones being the most popular choices). When death becomes an inevitability he buys a Walkman and "fourteen cassettes", most of them music from the 1970s. A Chinese vase with a Buddha painted on it, which figures prominently later in the book, is placed on his bookshelf, "between The Stranger and Catch-22" -- entirely too conveniently -- and he also picks up a few more books on his way to dying. Television and film, however, are markedly absent, presented if at all as background noise: "The boomer liked watching television." Later, older, he returns to the boob tube: "He watched a lot of public television. He got two canvas bags, a mug and a set of meditation tapes."
       Is the boomer the modern everyman ? Not quite, but he is a fair enough approximation of representatives of a certain class and type. Asher's sketch is occasionally clever, with a few nice scenes and turns. And it is so short that the sentences and scenes that don't come off are easily passed over.
       Much of the book is redeemed by its neat presentation. A well-designed little volume, Chip Kidd's sparse and simple drawings and collages complement the text nicely. It's a nice-looking little book, and readers who flip through the pages will certainly have a chuckle or two, and perhaps a sigh of self-recognition. Given that actually reading the book also only involves flipping through the pages (there are not very many words on each) we suggest reading it in its entirety at the local bookstore. Readers will hardly have time to sit down before completing it.
       The Boomer is a decent little text, quite polished and fairly well thought through. Read in the pages of an obscure college literary journal it might seem like a discovery, an amusing piece one might mention to someone. Packaged as a novel (published by an illustrious publisher no less -- and one (coincidentally ?) affiliated with Mr. Asher's own imprint) it seems dreadfully slight.

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Links:

The Boomer: Reviews: Baby Boomers: Chip Kidd: Other books under review that may be of interest:

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About the Author:

       American publisher Martin "Marty" Asher was born in 1945. He is editor in chief of Vintage Books and has written a number of books.

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