Thursday, July 14, 2016

Book 33: Private Citizens


"She felt mute and illiterate in the language of power, which was money. She knew that corporate oligarchs used it to subvert democracy. But she was hazy on macro and micro; how US trade agreements affected sweatshop conditions in Indonesia; what the Fed did, exactly. Her efforts to research the housing market crisis ended in page-crumpling fury- credit default swaps? Mortgage-backed securities? Collateralized debt obligations? How could people be moral when morality obliged you to know everything? It was her fault for not studying econ in college, but she'd had so much contempt for the future ibankers that it had seemed principled not to."

Dates read: March 19-22, 2016

Rating: 8/10

I may have graduated from college almost ten years ago (eep!) but I went straight to law school after that, so I really only started to have that post-graduation trying-to-figure-it-out experience about 6 years ago. It took me a couple years....I spent nine months trying to find a job as a lawyer, doing a couple stints of book rush at the college bookstore to score some pocket money, then once I got into litigation practice I washed out (I have no problem admitting I couldn't handle the pressure) after about a year and a half. From there, I was lucky enough to have a friend with a connection to the Obama campaign in Nevada, and figured I could spend a few months doing field organizing, making enough money to cover expenses while I contemplated next steps. But I met my now-husband while campaigning, and so I stayed in Nevada. Needing a job, I happened to find out about an internship with a lobbying firm during legislative session. I took it, and they liked me so much they kept me! Things in my life have been pretty stable since, but those 2-3 years right after graduation were fumbling and awkward and kind of scary sometimes.

Which is all to say that the just-graduated-and-I-have-no-idea-what-I'm-doing, trying to discern out who you really are and what you really want to do era isn't all that far behind me, considering that I'm 30. That time in their lives is what the characters in Tony Tulathimutte's Private Citizens are facing, so I had an immediate connection with the story. Confused social activist Cory, insecure tech worker Will, unstable grad student Henrik and self-destructive wannabe writer Linda all knew each other at Stanford and live in and around tech-boom San Francisco, and the story follows each of them in turn as they try to figure out the obstacles in front of them: Cory's inheritance of a flailing nonprofit, Will's inability to cope with his hyperambitious, emotionally withholding girlfriend Vanya, Henrick's loss of funding for his research and recurrence of bipolar disorder, and Linda's drug issues and infatuation with her own perceived genius. They're not friends anymore, per se, more like people whose lives intertwined in college as roommates or in ill-fated relationships, and never came completely apart. And as their lives get more complicated and harder, they find themselves coming back together.

Both Tulathimutte's characterizations and grasp on the thorny knot it can be to be a millennial are strong and ring true. Cory and Will and Henrik and Linda all feel like real, if highly magnified, people. None of them are especially likable, but all of them can be sympathetic. They're all experiencing the fuzzy mess of trying to check your privilege, of trying to find the right boundaries between your online life and your real one, figuring out your own niche in a crowded world, living up to the praise and expectations you've been inundated with for your whole life. It's trendy to dismiss millennial malaise as a bunch of whining from spoiled brats, but Tulathimutte understands that it isn't that simple. We were raised to believe that you earn a medal just for showing up, that you can be anything you want to be...and when it turns out that your life isn't particularly special, you can't shake the feeling that it's your fault, somehow, that you've failed yourself and wasted your potential. The writing is maybe a little heavy on esoteric word choices, but it's sharp and incisive and compelling. I'm not sure how I felt about the end, felt like a bit of a departure from the rest of the book, at least in part. But maybe when I read it again (and I plan to), knowing how it winds up, it'll fit more cohesively.

Tell me, blog long did it take you to get yourself together after college?

**I received a free copy of this book from the publisher, William Morris, through Edelweiss in exchange for a fair and honest review**

Note: Review cross-posted at Cannonball Read

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