'Defending Infinity' Holds Mediocrity in Contempt
Ken Janjigian’s newest novel, Defending Infinity (Pocol Press, 2008), following Trapped Doors (Pocol Press, 2005), is a foray into the lion’s den of cultural and self-assessment on the brink of true committed adulthood.
For the Gen X and Millennial generation, everything is so post-modernly “post” in general that it begins to hurt the head to think about it too hard. Unthinking young people under 30 have back lashed into religious conservatism. And those that consider themselves liberal desire to be moral people at their core, but exist in a jaundiced cultural vacuum that wants to continue the anti-authority trend of its Baby-Boomer parents. This, while they’re savvy enough to know that the globalized civilization they exist in is little more than a multinational corporate fiefdom.
As a society we see it everywhere—from the new neo-realism of superheroes like “Hancock” and Bale in “Batman Begins,” to the masculinity-satire novel of Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club.
But with local boy flavor, Janjigian brings the literary genre of the trend home to roost in his Boston stomping ground the way Nick Hornby and Mike Gayle did for High Fidelity and Turning Thirty in London.
Like Sentimentalist literature in the Victorian era or the Dashiell Hammett serialized pulp fictions in the noir epoch, the Millennium is the decade of the decadent “Sex and the City” reminiscent chick-lit and male equivalent John Cusack movie-in-print genres of writing that represent the Lost Generation of our time.
And if you’re familiar with those realms as a reader and member of society, Defending Infinity is a fine addition and another brick in the wall.
In premise, it’s the story Van Arakalian, a modern-day Armenian late twenty-something on the verge of marriage becoming today’s consistent of the Man in the Grey Flannel Suit. However, inside he yearns to live a freer existence. Not without responsibility, but with a higher responsible obligation to himself in the vein of Polonius’s sage advice, “To thine own self be true.”
As a result, Van goes on an intellectual comedic odyssey to assess himself with a rogue’s gallery of Cambridge-area bohemians as his collective Virgil guiding him through the wilderness.
Stylistically, there’s a great deal of astute sociological perception and honesty in Janjigian’s writing, balanced out with an equal amount of pretension. However, that pretension shouldn’t necessarily be laid as blame on Janjigian as the writer, because anyone that’s spent a significant amount of time in Cambridge knows that it’s a berg that oozes pretension. And if Janjigian’s character dialogues sometimes sound so artsy that they’re unrealistic and caricaturist, I’ll be the first to give my two cents and say that you as a reader haven’t been paying enough attention to some of the self-absorbed drivel that spills forth from pontificators in Boston’s bohemian hotspots.
In contrast, much of the anti-consumerist soapbox rhetoric that Janjigian explores has been tread and re-tread before, at which point it just becomes a matter of taste as to whether you enjoy Janjigian’s Boston-Armenian resonance of splicing open old societal wounds.
Rome’s always burning. Kurt Vonnegut and George Carlin as the Ezekiel and Elijah prophets of our time are dead, and the Empire is fallen, all the hail the Empire. Janjigian knows his audience, but with other similar novels floating around it becomes an issue of brand loyalty as to whether Janjigian’s Beantown intellectual nuances will be too much for some to bear.
In the tradition of Alan Moore, if you enjoy being the hippest cat in the room and reveling in references and humor that can make you feel like the king of Beacon Hill, you’ll be sucked into Defending Infinity quickly. And if Redemption is an ink spot called home, the Cantab rocks your world, and you have permanent residency status in the People’s Republic of Cambridge, there’s no doubt in my mind that it will be just your pint of summer ale.