Fear and Loathing in San Fernando
Margo Phillips’ first novel, BoomerAngst, presents a darkly comical and sometimes moving account of some of the casualties of the ‘Baby Boomer’ generation in the late Nineties.
A trail of unsuccessful attempts at musical success, no job, no money, no car, barely an apartment, two failed marriages and a failed relationship with a man who turned out to be a crackhead, a current relationship with a chronic alcoholic, and a chronic alcoholic problem herself- the detritus of a generally chaotic life seems to be everywhere. Right in the middle of this mess is the narrator of Margo Phillips’ first novel, BoomerAngst.
This first person account tells the story of Jamie Willoughby’s summer of 1998. When, faced with all her problems, she decides to move in with her boyfriend, Scott, who lives with his eccentric family in San Fernando, California. Scott, highly intelligent but a chronic alcoholic is soon rushed to the Emergency Room, at death’s door, suffering from cirrhosis of the liver and other complications. On discharging himself from the hospital, Jamie helps nurse him back to health. But things have changed in their relationship. Scott becomes more aloof and disdainful. It is clear that there is some love between them, but a distance has set in.
Given the awkwardness of the situation, Jamie takes to spending more and more time alone in a makeshift studio, listening to Bob Dylan and writing this book, which becomes a way of reflecting about events and life in general and, moreover, if she can sell it, her ticket out of her dire situation.
BoomerAngst becomes a journal for Jamie, who records the events happening around her - some personal, some political, and some simply absurd situations in which she finds herself - and flashbacks to her colourful past. We learn about her family - the Willoughbys, a bunch of wild and crazy Texans, who made and lost millions - and her mother, a right-wing Republican with more conventional roots; about her life-long friends, the Sleaze Sisters; the musicians the she has known and often performed with; and other people in her life, some of whom became victims to the excesses of the Sixties.
Despite some of the tragedy that she has known, and despite the seeming hopelessness of her current situation, and despite her disgust at "the effects on individuals living in a disintegrating society", BoomerAngst is written with a lot of compassion and humour, both satirical and dark, which point to an underlying optimism in the story. Jamie says that the boomerang connotation of the title refers to the resilience of her generation and ability to come back. In her case this is true. Even though most of what she has done up to now has ended in failure, she still has faith that completing this book provides a type of therapy for her and moreover a lifeline to help her get her life back on track.
BoomerAngst gives great insight into the mind of someone let down by the promises of the post-War generation, but more importantly it provides a sharp perspective on the history of America nearing the end of the 20th century.
This is Volume 1 in a series.