A strange satire on growing old
“What a drag it is getting old,” sang a young Mick Jagger.
As his 60s loom, Professor Marcus O, the title character in Brett Josef Grubisic’s Oldness; or, the Last-Ditch Efforts of Marcus O, would agree: aging is a major drag. Even the liver spots on his hands point to a dire future: “dotage, downturn, decrepitude, debility, diminution, dementia, the dyspeptic declining years.” Dyspepsia? He’s already there. Strangely, this educated wordsmith counts sunbathing among his great losses, those days of “caution thrown to the winds,” with no thoughts of melanoma. There’s more, naturally. On a fine October day in 2023, he also resents not being able to say “Indian Summer.”
Our curmudgeon’s spotted hands symbolize his remarkably thin skin. Those unfamiliar with the petty viciousness of academia might be shocked, however, by the prof’s calculated revenge against the feminist colleague he overheard calling him a “fossil.” As for his students, those know-nothings, they “shopped and played electronic games like champs and settled into their eventual office pens as readily as Huxley’s clones.”
Take L’Oréal Zhang, interested in fashion (hence her nickname) sitting time after time in Marcus’s office clad in bizarre outfits, sadly unable to achieve the grades she needs. Foreign student? Marcus offers no sympathy — especially after he catches her taping him.
The questionnaires provided by a seniors’ dating site inspire much wideranging satire, as Marcus looks back on the preceding decades. Addicted to faking answers about his hopes and dreams, the never-married Marcus’ stroked-out first efforts are hilarious, revealing both honest reactions to intrusive questions (“asinine”) and a soul sadly unfit for the fakery of social media.
As a character, Marcus reminds us of Bernard Marx, Brave New World’s brilliant, lonely, misfit. We may not love resentful, weary, Marcus after five years, but we know him. Grubisic’s take-noprisoners assault on academia, loneliness, western real estate — all our current craziness — arrives like a satirical tsunami, earning its place among the finest dystopias.
Oldness; or, the Last-Ditch Efforts of Marcus O, by Brett Josef Grubisic, Now or Never Publishing, 239 pages, $19.95.