Speaking of nihilism.
A few months ago an old friend of mine who really, really didn't like The Zeroes got around to telling me why she hated it. (This isn't to inveigh against her at all; The Zeroes ain't a book for everyone.) She gave a lot of reasons, and I won't enumerate them here, but she did keep coming back to the failures of the main characters: they make stupid choices, they don't treat each other well, they don't really change (at least not for the better in most cases), and most of them are either too myopic to have learned anything or are incapable of getting their heads around what they did learn, and nothing gets better: the book just drags and drops the reader into a dark, shitty place, and then leaves them there. (Mr. Kierkegaard did say that being brought to despair is a prerequisite for reaching truth and deliverance, and I'm pretty sure I had something like that in the back of my mind at the time.)
But at one point she asked if I was a nihilist, which I thought was interesting. I wouldn't call The Zeroes a nihilistic book at all. Even though the "heroes" of the story—the narrator and Charlie—crash, burn, and sink into the mud, the thing they're both after is something of authenticity and beauty, even there's a kind of selfishness to their pursuit of it. (And we could say the ideal itself has been deformed by the environment. That was one of the reasons why I thought it was
important that most of the main characters skip out on college: their horizons are never
broadened beyond the mall where they work.)
There was supposed to be an implicit happy ending. Back when I was revising it and trying to get it published legitimately—and I think I can be forgiven for believing it was relevant enough to the frustrated millennials of 2010 to get picked up by a small press somewhere—I was planning on doing something like what Mark Twain had done with Huckleberry Finn, claiming in a foreword that I only found the anonymous manuscript on a shelf at the Borders where I worked and just touched it up a little. The fact that it had gotten published and was being read (and related to) would be the "1234, 1234" to the "As the Footsteps Die Out Forever" note on which the text actually concludes. It would verify that, contrary to the narrator's fears, it wasn't all for nothing. (And I still don't think it was.)
I see it more as a book about frustrated idealism, about truth, beauty, value, etc. under siege. They're getting leeched and warped by the cultural forces represented in the book by the mall, but they do exist, they're still alive. A nihilistic book would begin with the premise that they're either already dead or just worthless. That book wouldn't be called The Zeroes: maybe it would be I Never Had To Stop Worrying to Learn to Love the Mall: I Loved the Mall, I Love the Mall, I Love and Live For The Gap, Inc., and Its Successes Are My Successes. Or maybe My Life of Artistic and Personal Fulfillment as a Marketing Consultant. Or maybe a story where the narrator graduates from high school, gets a job as the assistant manager of a Thomas Kinkade store, spends his paychecks on beer, porn, and action movies, and the happy ending is when he gets promoted to manager and can afford to buy the $900 massage chair he's had his eye on at The Sharper Image. That would be nihilistic.
I tried to make sure The Zeroes had windows and trapdoors to better places, so that there were better worlds and possibilities within that world. Unfortunately, out heroes usually didn't notice them or didn't go through them. In a nihilistic book, there would be no trapdoors or windows: those places simply wouldn't exist.
Do me a favor. One of the links at the top is to a track by a vaporwave artist called Saint Pepsi. Three paragraphs up are two links to a pair of Catch 22 songs. Listen to the one, then listen to the other two. Tell me the sensations and even memories that one evokes; then do the same for the other. Describe their textures for me.
That might be why I'm still hung up on this vaporwave thing: it's much more bleak than anything I've ever done. My stories have a tendency to visit dark places. Vaporwave and its relata simply deny the existence of the sun.
I'm calling this the last post about The Zeroes because I have another book dropping in about a week. More details forthcoming!