September 15, 2009

Why I signed "Too Young to Fall Asleep:" An Apologia.

Too Young to Fall Asleep, by Sally Weigel

APOLOGIA: A critical essay designed specifically to be entirely positive in nature, deliberately ignoring the weaknesses of that subject in order to instead persuade the reader to become a fan as well.

It's a tricky thing when a story ends up speaking for an entire generation; because as we all know, when an author goes into a project specifically trying to write a generation-defining tale, most often such projects turn out to be dismal failures, overwritten and self-important things that more often than not feel simply like an author insultingly lecturing us. Instead, it's usually when a writer tries not to speak for that generation that they end up doing so; because by concentrating on an intimate story full of unique characters, that author will often end up inadvertently tapping into the generalities that define their entire age group, ironically delivering a manuscript that huge amounts of people will end up relating to, even when that author was under the impression that no one but themselves would end up "getting it."

It's a subject I find myself thinking about a lot whenever reading the work of Sally Weigel, still in high school when I first became a fan (she's now a sophomore at Chicago's DePaul University), yet already gifted with a remarkably mature voice; because that's one of the first things I noticed about her short stories back then, back when she was simply a CCLaP reader who would leave the URL of her blog in her frequent comments here, that she almost never wrote stories from the standpoint of people her age and in her situation (growing up middle-class in the American suburbs), and in fact has professed a natural disdain for most stories that do contain such a thing.

Like I said, this ironically makes Sally a perfect candidate for writing a generation-defining story in the first place; because by her obsession with trying to reach within her varied characters and find the inner truth of what makes them tick, and her insistence on tackling as many different kinds of situations and people possible, she has accidentally been training herself to discover the universal truths that make all of us humans behave as we do, long before most young writers realize that this should be a goal with their work in the first place. And make no mistake, Sally has a natural gift at finding the inner motivations of her characters, whether old or young or female or male, a maturity to her worldview that belies her physical age, a big part of what attracted me to her short work in the first place.

And that of course brings us to the biggest irony of all regarding the novella she recently wrote for CCLaP, Too Young to Fall Asleep; that back a year and a half ago, when I first invited her to write this novella for the center, not only was it actually me who suggested that she set it among a group of graduating high-schoolers in a middle-class suburb of Chicago, but Sally actually had to be talked into it as well, and was at first very hesitant about the entire idea. And that's because I could see the way that she's able to hone in with a laser precision on the secret urges that motivate her characters, and figured that if this eagle-eye was to be trained on her own age group, the results would be no less than eerily prescient and truly spectacular; and apparently a lot of people agree with me, in that even before this book was released to the general public, I was already receiving worried comments from CCLaP's proofreaders simply assuming that this was an autobiographical story, and nervously asking me if Sally ever ended up recovering from the war injuries that befall the book's main character Catherine.

That's the real power of Sally's writing, I feel, and why I'm confident in calling this a generation-defining tale, even as Sally herself is embarrassed by such a term; in fact, it's precisely because Sally is so uncomfortable with this kind of definition that I believe it to be so apt. The fact is that there's a lot for us Gen-X middle-agers to learn here in Asleep about Sally's generation, the so-called "Millennials" who in many cases are our own sons and daughters; but on the other hand, it's remarkable to see how little sometimes changes from one generation to the next as well, with Sally ultimately turning in a story full of legitimate parent/child conflicts yet with a surprising number of similarities too. It's fascinating for me as a forty-year-old to see Sally's take here on my generation, and how our collective whiny suicidal pop-culture-obsessed natures clash so badly against the optimistic, sincerity-seeking generation right after ours; yet it's equally fascinating to see how many things we have in common (not the least of which is our cross-generational love of the band Radiohead, a running theme throughout this manuscript that even provides the book's title), a legitimately profound change from how my own generation got along with the Baby Boomers before us.

I think that people are going to be surprised by Too Young to Fall Asleep, and pleased by its balanced, sophisticated look at the world as it exists right this moment, right at the tail-end of the disastrous Bush years and his ill-conceived "war on terrorism." Certainly, I myself was shocked by just how great this novella ended up coming out, and I have to confess that I'm immensely honored to have both my name and CCLaP's reputation associated with it. I'm convinced that Sally Weigel is destined to become a major force in the American arts and letters, and it's been my privilege to be able to provide the opportunity here for her unforgettable literary debut. I am sure that once you read the book yourself, you will become just as much of a fan as I am, something I encourage you to do as soon as possible.

Filed by Jason Pettus at 3:43 PM, September 15, 2009. Filed under: CCLaP Publishing | CCLaP news | Literature | Reviews |