Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Growing Up in Urban America

One of the things I like about Jonathan Kellerman’s novels is that inevitably they get me thinking. For example, the following is excerpted from his 2006 novel, Gone. The narrator is the central character, psychologist Alex Delaware.

Back when I treated children, I routinely took histories from parents and learned what family life could be like in L.A. People packing up and moving every year or two, the surrender to impulse, the death of domestic ritual.

Many of the parents I saw lived in sun-baked tracts with no other kids nearby and spent hours each day being bused to and from beige corrals that claimed to be schools. Long electronic nights were bleached by cathode and dump-thumped by the current angry music. Bedroom windows looked out to hazy miles of neighborhoods that couldn’t really be called that.

Lots of imaginary friends in L.A. That, I supposed, was inevitable. It’s a company town and the product is fantasy.

The city kills grass with red carpets, worships fame for its own sake, demolishes landmarks with glee because the high-stakes game is reinvention. Show up at your favorite restaurant and you’re likely to find a sign trumpeting failure and the windows covered with brown paper. Phone a friend and get a disconnected number.

No Forwarding. It could be the municipal motto.

You can be gone in L.A. for a long time before anyone considers it a problem.

~Jonathan Kellerman, Gone, 2006 pp. 5-6.

After I read those lines, I reread them. Then I started thinking.

Even though Kellerman’s protagonist, Alex Delaware, is focusing on life in Los Angeles, the situation isn’t much different in other U.S. cities. Lots of children live in neighborhoods where there are no other kids nearby. My street is one of those. Other than a couple of us old foggies, most of the residents here are relatively young and, if they have children, the children are also very young. That means that in the neighborhood there are perhaps a half-dozen kids who are school age—and that includes kindergarten. When school is not in session, I have no idea where these children go to find other kids.

Of course, maybe the kids don’t seek other kids. Perhaps they spend the days and nights watching TV or playing video games or surfing the net. Perhaps their friends are all somewhere in cyberspace, which is a down-side to our Internet technology for both children and many adults.

Go to favorite restaurant and find a sign trumpeting failure—or, as I did, just am empty lot? It happens all the time, even in mid-sized cities such as Louisville. But I have already written about that, at least about the disappearing fast food joints.

When Alex Delaware reflects that L.A. is a “company town,” I must admit that I never thought about that. Lots of cities are “company towns.” Sometimes the power is shared between two or more companies, but often the nature of the city and its residents is set by the largest employer in town.

And what about calling a friend and finding that they no longer exist? I have done that more than once and in more than one city. I’ll admit that moving around a lot has added to that losing contact with friends. But, then, our increasing mobility is one of our society’s strongpoints, too. Right?

Back to kids growing up in urban American society. I am most happy my sons are grown. I am less happy that my grandchildren are experiencing life in this rat-race of a society. I am most concerned about future generations as we seem to become less and less stable and more and more strangers to each other.


  1. I'm going to have check this author out next trip to the library. There aren't many kids in my neighborhood either. Just some retirees and couples with no children like myself. I always wonder what kids do now on Halloween. I buy candy every year thinking I'll run out only to not hear the doorbell ring even once!(was that a sentence) There aren't enough companies in my town but most are employed by the tourist industry so maybe it is a 'company town' I'm definitely interested in this book.

  2. I've been my neighborhood for two years and I only know two neighbors. My poor kids are confined to the visible back yard until we move a little further out to the country.

    There's just too much that can happen to them to let them wonder about in the neighborhood like we did as kids...

    A little fourth grader went missing and never came home just a few months ago... it's so sad, really.

    Nice post!

  3. It sounds like a good read. I'll check it out.

  4. I am glad we didn't have video games when I grew up. I rather wish we hadn't had TV either.

  5. The video gaming friends are a source of contention with MilkMan, myself and our Little Kid (he's almost 16 now). We are very rural and he's out of district from his school so even if there were kids semi close, he wouldn't know them from school.

    On the other hand..I kinda like having him under my thumb here...he's a good kid, straight As, never any problems. But his only friends are on the internet. MilkMan doesn't begin to comprehend that and while I do get it, I worry for him......

    Nice post Nick, make me think. I will check out this author!

  6. Jonathon Kellerman is brilliant. His wife Faye, and now his son, are great, too.
    Hope all is well, Nick.
    Take care, Meow

  7. I echo Meow’s words. The Kellermans are two of my favorite authors. I have yet to read their son. Jonathan’s “The Butcher's Theatre” that was set in Jerusalem is, for me, a classic. And as with all of his books, I learned a lot, too.

  8. I love Jonathan Kellerman! I hord his books - he's got a bookcase of his own at my place! Well, not entirely to himself, but I guess he can't write any faster just because I've got some space to fill... :)

    Have you read his wife's (Faye Kellerman) book? Slightly different then her husbands stuff, but pretty good...

  9. I think one side effect of the loss of family-owned businesses is that there is no sense of community anymore.

    When you know the grocer on the corner it's a completely different feeling that when you shop in a chain store.

  10. Yes. I absolutely agree with you on that one. In the village where I grew up, there was a little grocery store, a greengrocers, chemist, butcher... just the basics. It was almost like having extra aunts and uncles looking out for you, because the shopkeepers knew who each kid "belonged" to, you know? And shopping with my mother could take a while, because she would always stop and talk for what seemed an eternity to my childish mind.

    It's a bit different now we've grown. My parents shop at the big supermarket.. and although they see people they know in the store, it's just not the same feeling.

    Lots to think about on this post, Nick... :o) ... and the book sounds good.

  11. Hey, Nick! Meme at my place. You in?

  12. here here. I wonder how we will relate - IF - we will relate in the future.

    maybe you can be an example for the grandkids by really listening and participating in their hopes and dreams and disappointments.

  13. I think I've read one of his books, I can't remember though. I think I would like him though.

    As for people disappearing, that happens a lot too, especially the neighbors next door (which is a good thing I suppose!). There's three rental places directly next door...the one rental usually has decent people that stick around for a few years at least...but the other two, I never know who's living there from one month to the next.

    We've got a few industries here...there's Atlantic City not too far away that employees quite a bit...there was a glass factory, though that's dying down. A few other factory type places...but I think Atlantic City is the biggest employer here in South Jersey.

  14. I love Jonathan Kellerman's books...especially his psychologist character, Alex Delaware. I haven't read "Gone" yet, but I'll see if it's in the library on Monday.

  15. I love Jonathan Kellerman's books...especially his psychologist character, Alex Delaware. I haven't read "Gone" yet, but I'll see if it's in the library on Monday.

  16. Hi Nick. we live near where I grew up. It is so different here now that I don't look forward to the time Steve wants to go out and about on his own.

    The first place we lived when I was a kid, all the kids just went out and about all over the place in the neighborhood - that would never happen now, someone might pick them up or run them over. Times how they have changed.