Less Than Zero

For book 8 of 2020, I read Less Than Zero. I first heard about this book in the documentary Generation Wealth. The characters in this book are floppy knockdown cardboard cutouts of people. There is no plot. There’s no organization. It’s less of a book in the traditional sense than an experience or a feeling: for that I give it credit.

It’s not a good feeling, though. American culture has an obsession with wealth and excess. I’m sure everyone has watched at least one episode or read at least one magazine article about the rich and famous. What their houses look like, their closets, their vacations, their parties. And I’m sure we’ve all imagined how wonderful life would be if we were that rich: “Fuck you rich.” This book, told from the perspective of one such teen, tells a story of emptiness, pointlessness, neglect, apathy, boredom, endless parties, drugs and taboo for the sake of it. It doesn’t sound like that much fun.

Near the end, one character challenges another, asking him to name one thing he doesn’t have. He says “I don’t have anything to lose.” I guess meaning is something you can’t buy. Figuring out what matters to you rather than what feels good in the moment isn’t fun, but maybe the point of the book is that having that level of wealth can make it unnecessary to do the work. And then, you’re left with a lifetime of anesthetizing yourself against the feeling of emptiness with drugs and taboo sex acts with children.

What a buzzkill. Who wants to hear that being rich is just as dull as being poor? If I had any confidence that the poor were literate enough or motivated enough to read this book en masse, then I would conjecture that it was written to encourage them not to rise up in a proletarian revolution. But I looked up the author, and according to him, it comes from a place of personal pain. So. That makes it even more depressing. I can’t recommend it for pleasure reading, but it is well-written in the sense that it “takes you there.”

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