Generation X (Coupland)

Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture - Douglas Coupland

I am in, or at least on the cusp of, Generation X, so I must admit that i expected this curious production to resonate with me more than it did. There were flashes of recognition with some (not nearly all) of the constant string of material culture references. And I recognized, at an intellectual level, how some of the typographical oddities were signalling the malaise of the generation itself: the marginalia draws your attention away from the stories, typical of the fragmented attention of my youth; the ironic, half-clever coinages and definitions (e.g. McJob) reveal that terrible urge to define and understand in an incomprehensible world. But, at my advanced age, I think perhaps those qualities (and the immense resentment of the prior generation, also much in evidence here) are just characteristics of the youth of pretty much any generation you care to name. Or at least any generation where the young people aren't dragged into severe crisis like a World War to turn them away from looking inwards.

 

That said, the three main characters were alien creatures to me. Part of that was that even the Canadian among them (depressed, undeclared gay, dual-citizen Dag from Toronto, probably D. Coupland's nearest thing to a stand-in) is very heavily Americanized, as is the book, which is primarily set in the dusty California desert (another heavy symbol). The actual narrator, Andy, becomes most human when describing his interactions with his own relatives, but otherwise seems to be entirely lost in his own head. In fact, this book has them all - there is also a woman character who is little more than a cipher - spending more time in alternate worlds that this one, spinning elaborate stories to each other about doomsday scenarios or micro-worlds frozen in time. The stories are moderately amusing but in the end do not illuminate much about either the teller or the people being told to - except that they amuse themselves by spinning tales about appalling alternate realities. Possibly that's the point.

 

So, I didn't connect. Wrong place and time, maybe. Maybe it's just that (as with Kerouac's On The Road) I have read it at the wrong age. Or maybe it's just too self-consciously clever and hasn't worn well. It was worth the try, I guess.