Torday’s novel, Boomer1 (St. Martins, Sept.; reviewed on p. 60), follows an underemployed millennial who channels his desperation into a grassroots campaign to force boomers out of the workforce.
What made you start writing a book about baby boomers and intergenerational strife?
I’ve been thinking a lot since Occupy Wall Street about where the revolutionary energy in America has gone and is going. I’m not quite a millenial and I’m not quite a Gen Xer; I’m right in this strange space in between. So I saw a generation younger than me having an extremely hard time just finding jobs. And it felt like a fluke of timing. I wanted to imagine a character who was stuck in that spot, trying to find work, having everything fall apart, and then what it would look like for him to be down in a ditch.
Mark begins an online, antiboomer video series that goes viral. Where did that idea come from?
It partially came from an interest in reading about internet phenomena like Anonymous, which rose up on 4chan and through the dark web. I also knew that I wanted to write about revolutionary thought and was researching figures like John Brown and Emma Goldman. But then I also wanted to think about the controversial aspects of people like Anwar al-Awlaki and the Boston marathon bombers. While it’s easy to get blinded by something like Islamism as the reason someone acts violently, the idea of a young person that is angry enough to try to use violence to change things culturally is universally and inherently interesting to me.
Do you think radical thought has become corporatized?
Radical is a very complicated word, because there is a way that contentious thinking, or belligerent thinking, has been coopted by places like Twitter. It’s amazing, after being off social media for a while, how Facebook now feels like this place for old, sweet aunts, and Instagram feels like a hip but sweet sibling, and I go on Twitter and can’t believe the level of vitriol. Nothing seems to get traction on Twitter other than anger. Maybe I’m skirting the question, but that’s not really revolutionary or radical. Corporate interests have just taken mass anger and belligerence and channeled it. For the book, I wanted to think about what it would actually look like for this pent up frustration to be used to change events.
And Occupy Wall Street served as a basis for your thinking?
Yes. I think there were valid criticisms of Occupy. It was never totally clear what the actual ask was. And it was never really clear who the single leadership figure was. You can make an argument that there is an ideological line from there to Bernie Sanders, and now to [New York congressional candidate] Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. So, in my writing, I wanted to address those two criticisms. What if there was a clear ask? And what if the movement had a clear leader?