In Diane McKinney-Whetstone’s seventh novel, Our Gen, four well-off 60-something characters bond in an exclusive and privileged environment.
Located just outside Philadelphia, the Gen (short for “sexagenarian”) is a leafy suburban community named for the sexy seniors who live there. In addition to its luxury concierge services, spa amenities and high-tech smart homes, the Gen is a uniquely intense social environment in which residents experience a kind of renewal and second wind. It’s also a place of transition that inspires contemplation, and sometimes those reflections are painful.
The events of the novel pivot around Cynthia, a new resident grieving the loss of the cherished West Philadelphia mansion and the life her attentive (and pushy) son is convinced no longer suits her. A wealthy Black Ivy League graduate and divorc’e, Cynthia bonds quickly, yet not without reservation, with an existing clique that includes the “tall and golden” Tish, an attention-grabbing, light-skinned African American socialite; Bloc, the only Black man at the Gen and a retired NASA scientist with three ex-wives; and the mysterious Lavia, a retired financier, who may or may not be South Asian. Cynthia and Bloc share an instant attraction that threatens the group’s equilibrium. There’s also a wrongful arrest of a beloved community employee, but that ends up being a small part of why Cynthia’s first few months at the Gen are a time of great change for the clique.
In the novel’s present, life revolves around dinners and cocktail receptions. Cynthia, Tish, Bloc and Lavia fill their time with political debate and conjecture about other residents’ political leanings, as well as recreational drinking and smoking that greases the wheels of interpersonal disclosures and sex. There’s a college-campus feel to the intensity of their sharing. However, the majority of the novel’s drama is interior, occurring in contemplative flashbacks as the foursome reckons with the worst parts of their personal histories.
McKinney-Whetstone presents these revelations in a striking and compelling style, frequently dipping into metaphor to describe the characters’ interiority through comparisons to their environment. The soapy melodrama and artistic presentation of the flashbacks are a powerful blend, if at times a little uneven in their effect.
Complex characters and relationships are the heart of the novel, and overall, the combination works well. The premise is creative, focusing on a group of people who aren’t often at the center of stories filled with love, sex and laughter. Our Gen is warm and smart, accessible yet meaningful, a beach read with strong writing and emotional heft.