EAST OF PORTLAND by Jon  Gentry

EAST OF PORTLAND

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A fictionalized autobiography presents the life of a rootless American millennial.

The narrator of Gentry’s novel is unnamed, although he claims that gentrification “was literally named after me.” He’s a self-described “party boy with an MFA who might or might not be insufferably intellectual.” Although he’s originally from Portland, Oregon, he doesn’t live there anymore—a fact that he says is unfathomable to other millennials, who see it as a hipster mecca. The seasoned barista lived there during what he calls “its world-historical, trend-setting moment” in the 2000s, but he feared that he would never grow up if he remained. He leaves his hometown in 2015, embarking on a road trip across America. He eventually settles in a potential Portland-of-the-East: Providence, Rhode Island. He gets a job in a cafe, but he finds New England to be cold and strange. He goes to New York City to look for a job in corporate communications—he decides he might be ready for the “hustle”—but ends up with an interview in Atlanta, leading to another long road trip. As he travels, he goes on Tinder dates and makes observations about the millennial experience in America, the rise of Donald Trump, and the metaphorical resonance of the Star Wars and Jurassic Park film franchises. Gentry’s topic—the conflicting privileges and scarcities that define his own generation—is a worthy one, and he manages to touch on some major issues. Unfortunately, the narrator is a seemingly unironic caricature of millennial stereotypes. The prose can be distractingly overwrought: “During my time in the MFA program I ogled existential richness as a jester in the palace of learning, at the cost of accrued loans and the frustrations of sputtering professionalization.” The narrator sometimes sounds like a character in a Portlandia sketch (a show that he says “landed the death blow to a reeling, altruistic Portland”), with gems such as, “For me, Voodoo [Doughnut, a famous Portland shop] was a depot on the journey of teenage self-discovery, not a national chain or tourist trap.” In the end, although the novel apparently aims to say something meaningful, it doesn’t quite do so.

An essayistic and hollow hipster tale.

ISBN: 978-0-9997715-1-8
Page count: 189pp
Publisher: Fox Point Books
Program: Kirkus Indie
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