Getting soft served on consumer culture

Understanding non-spaces in consumer culture through ‘Soft Serve’

Image supplied by: Allison Graves
Memorial University Ph.D. Candidate Allison Graves touches on isolation and interactions.

Allison Graves’ Soft Serve delivers McDonald’s and Walmart for millennials.

Planned for release this September, Graves’ debut novel of short stories focuses on consumer culture in Canada. While attending Memorial University of Newfoundland as a creative writing Masters student, Graves began writing Soft Serve as her final thesis project. Her work in Soft Serve can be credited to French anthropologist Marc Augé and his theory of “non-place.”

The project specifically touches on spaces in consumer culture where people can remain anonymous to the world around them while still taking up space. Graves brings voice to the busy, yet isolating, spaces of Walmart and McDonald’s as examples of non-spaces.

The book takes advantage of the topics of non-spaces to simultaneously reflect on what it means to be in your early 20s at university and how to find a sense of self. As Graves assesses the ways McDonald’s can act as a non-place crossroad for human interactions.

“It’s just like a lot of kind of millennials who are, you know, moving through spaces, mostly in Ontario and Newfoundland, which were the two places that I was living.”

The connection between Augé’s non-places and her theme of millennial moments tied
her academic career with her creative world.

Currently a PhD Candidate in the English department at Memorial University of Newfoundland, Graves reflects on the stories in Soft Serve, which she’d first written over five years ago.

“I was in my early 20s when I wrote the book and a lot of me is in that book. The stories are less of a specific instance and every story has its own trajectory.”

She mentioned one story about three girls getting trapped inside their house during a snowstorm in St. John’s, NFLD and the parallels between the fictional story and her life.

“That story happened to me and my friends during ‘Snowmageddon’ in Newfoundland a
couple of years ago and its pretty poignant for me. I think it speaks to the kind of isolation that happened during that snowstorm but also shortly after the pandemic.”

The stories are meant to show the perspective of millennials in their 20s and how they come to their ways of being in this consumer culture. A similar experience Queen’s students may relate to.

“Some of them are written in first person, but a lot of them are written in third person which is where I feel the most comfortable.”

The third person perspective allows her to show a birds-eye-view of the people scanning the aisles in Walmart—lost in their own lives.

“There’s a girl and her dad talking over McDonald’s fries about his cancer diagnosis. There’s a mother pretending she’s princess Diana. There’s a lot of contemporary problems that happens in spaces that don’t always feel very authentic.”

“Ultimately, it’s a lot of millennials moving through spaces in Ontario and Newfoundland […] who are feeling lost or apathetic in their lives and weaving in and out of these spaces.”

She credited the St. John’s arts community as a place of inspiration and support in the publication of her book.

“It’s a lot of writers, a lot of visual artists and interesting people and academics who come together.”

The bonds she made there have helped her writing, and through her connections
helped her be discovered and published by Breakwater Publishing.

She said it can be very frustrating for people who want to write, but she encourages everyone to write for literary magazines or enter literary competitions to find a place they can be discovered.


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