Date of Award

May 2017

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Liam R. Callanan

Committee Members

Patrice Petro, Peter Sands, Peter Y. Paik, Maurice A. Kilwein Guevara


Austerity, Gerontocracy, Kilroy, Passbook, Post-mortal, Social Media


Passbook is a nostalgic novel that considers the meaning of love and family on the edge of a post-mortal near future. As the era of austerity enters its third decade, a social media platform—the eponymous Passbook—allows the living to interact with the dead, and changes the landscape of longevity forever. Wyatt Simmons, a young underemployed college graduate, finds himself locked out of the American Dream by suppressed wages, strangled career opportunities, and overwhelming debt. While coping with the un-deaths of his mother and sister, and estrangement from his financially-comfortable careerist father, Wyatt perseveres in a dissatisfying relationship of necessity with his long-time girlfriend Sara Grayson, and uses what little money he can scrounge to try and catapult himself into the spotlight of the Lego Corporation, his dream employer. At work, he meets Pepper Boswick, a wisecracking children’s clothing store salesperson by day and a legendary professional gamer by night, and the two of them hatch a plan to bust Wyatt, and his grand Lego project, out of Sara’s apartment. Meanwhile, a shadowy figure named Kilroy—half internet-age demagogue, half mad-genius—has his own plans for Wyatt’s generation and the gridlocked gerontocracy of Passbook.

The novel operates in a tragic-comedic mode, with elements of both satirical-nostalgic humor and profound disillusionment. Rather than make the easy jab at generational conflict and us-vs.-them thinking, Passbook enmires Wyatt in a shifting tangle of duty to his family (many of whom are “Posterity” users of Passbook, meaning they are deceased and therefore functionally immortal), to his own generation (friends, coworkers, and girlfriends, who he most relates to) and to himself (in the form of a hopeless struggle to grow up in a world of work that seems not to need or want him). Wyatt’s relationship with his father takes center-stage in the novel’s second half, as his work- and love-lives collapse around him, and force him to confront his grievances, some real and some imagined, with the man, the family, and to an extent the larger era that raised him.