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Sarah Britten

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Held hostage by history

This is the prologue for a story about white male Gen X anger and conflict between generations. It was inspired in part by my own situation, but this is definitely fiction. Writing about a character who in many ways is so unsympathetic is going to be an interesting challenge. I’m posting this here in an effort to get A into G and actually produce something instead of just talking about it endlessly.

“We’re being held hostage by history,” he says, the words fueled by the middling red blend they’ve just finished, and her eyes glaze over because she’s heard this speech a hundred times before, she can recite it almost word for word, and everyone else at the table has heard it too and ohgodthisisembarrassing, why does he do this?

“Look at us. What do we have to show for it? All the hours we spend battling to earn a living to pay off the two-bed one-bath apartment and the affordable car and maybe an overseas holiday once every two years. Can anyone sitting here honestly say you’re living the life you just assumed you were entitled to? Anyone?”

Clinking of spoons in dessert bowls, dinner guests suddenly fascinated by the dregs at the bottom of their wine glasses, but nobody says anything.

“Look at us compared to our parents. How much did they have when they were our age? In their thirties? Three kids. Nice big house in a good suburb. Mothers could stay home because men earned enough. You didn’t need to send your kid to a private school because the government schools were decent back then.”

“They had the good life. Maids and gardeners, white pool fences, no monthly fee for ADT. They took what they wanted. Walked into jobs. Climbed the corporate ladder. Got fat and comfortable while they feathered their nests. They’re all living in their retirement houses on the coast while we sit here dealing with the mess they left behind. They’ve fucked up society, fucked up the financial system, fucked up the planet.”

“We’re the ones paying for everything. Everything. You know what it feels like to walk around knowing you’re not wanted in your own country? Do you know what it feels like?” His voice cracks.

“I didn’t ask to be here. I didn’t ask to be born in this country. I didn’t ask to be white. I didn’t ask to live now. I didn’t get a choice about where in history I ended up, but somehow I must pay for it. So what are we supposed to do now? What? What?”

Is this a rhetorical question? She’s never sure. All she knows is that she’s tired, she wants to have a nice hot bath and go to bed and not have to listen to him (please may he pass out without trying anything, she is so not in the mood) because frankly, she’s had enough. More than enough.


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