“Ten Thousand Saints” and The Shape of Punk Novels to Come

Posted by Jason Diamond

If 1991 was “the year punk broke,” I’d like to think of 2011 as “the year the punk novel broke” with the publication of books like Justin Taylor’s crusty cult epic, The Gospel of Anarchy, Vanessa Veselka’s Zazen; and the most critically acclaimed of all, Ten Thousand Saints, by Eleanor Henderson.  I’d also add Tao Lin’s Shoplifting From American Apparel and The Orange Eats Creeps by Grace Krilanovich into this emerging genre, the difference being that they didn’t come out this year.

Ten Thousand Saints is about a wasted teenager living in New York at the onset of the beginning of the end: gentrification.  Henderson’s use of the Straight Edge movement is interesting, and as far as writers go, it’s hard to hard to question her ability.  Ten Thousand Saints’ weakness comes from an overall feeling of being over-researched, and I can see anyone familiar with the punk/hardcore scene calling foul over her use of that sacred history as fodder for this debut novel.  But let’s be honest, the straight edge scene was ripe for the picking.  It was a movement that gained plenty of attention for a number of reasons, and Henderson used that appeal to her advantage.  She knows that teenage boys swearing off sex is absurd, notes the homoerotic nature of the hardcore scene, and realizes that the period in which she was dealing with was the last time that New York was a seedy place, rich with a million opportunities for adventure.  Call her an opportunist, but in my opinion, if nobody else was willing to do it (and do it well), why not Henderson?

But here is my key question: does Henderson’s critical success, coupled with the maturation of a generation nursed by punk, mean the punk novel is here to stay?

(Artwork by Margarita Korol)