R&R 020 | Polaroids from the Dead
Polaroids from the Dead
[ Dutch translation, unfortunately ]
First published in 1996
This edition: rainbow pockets, 1997
"Polaroids from the Dead" is a collection (in three sections) of essays and short fictional stories, in which Douglas Coupland examines the 90's zeitgeist and the Northern American culture at the time. The 40+ black and white archival images included throughout the book add to the feeling of watching a documentary.
I always felt Coupland to be a very outspoken writer. Several of his fiction works have offered critique and viewpoints of a varied amount of cultural subjects today: from modern technology to dysfunctional families to 9/11 to religion. I was curious to read his views in a different way, through (wat mostly is) non-fiction, in "Polaroids of the Dead".
I will address each section seperately, below.
The first section introduces us to a number of characters, all from different backgrounds, with different jobs and histories, who have one thing in common: they are attending the Grateful Dead concert. Their unique stories together create a wonderful atmospheric experience of how it feels to be part of a concert, or even a festival. I felt Coupland, using mostly words, captured the essence of what music, and sharing music, can mean to people.
The second part covers pieces about the places or historical events that have in some way made an impact on Coupland, and he wants to share that with his readers. A favourite piece of mine has to be "Lion's Gate Bridge". Coupland writes about this Vancouver bridge in a personal and heartfelt way, and it is odd to think how an essay about a bridge can achieve this autobiographical effect. But it does.
A piece I found to be particularly well written is the first part of "Postcards from the Bahama's", where a day is consciously experienced as if this is all the time you have, this day defining your whole life.
The third and final part of the book is a lengthier essay on LA's Brentwood, which is mostly known for being the place where Marilyn Monroe was found dead. Brentwood's legacy. Some sections of Coupland's observations have interested me, and even though Coupland is clearly very critical in his writing, the subject that is Brentwood leaves me kind of cold.
So, to go back to the book as a whole…
It doesn't seem fair to give one rating to a book which possesses a wide range of essays each with a different level of interestingness – depending on your personal taste. But generally, I wasn't disappointed with this non-fiction side of Coupland.
Some essays were not quite for me, but all together this bundle was thought-provoking (always a pleasure for an opinionated person such as myself). I ended up discussing some of the material with Wil while we were on the road. Reading this has also helped me to better understand where Coupland comes from in his views on our ever evolving (or de-volving?) society. I'm certainly curious to read some of his other bundles, such as "City of Glass" – which is about Vancouver and includes "Lion's Gate Bridge".
[I should add in a side-note that I read a meager Dutch translation, which was accidental as I thought I would be receiving the English version from the first owner of the book. Knowing Coupland has a way with words, I felt while reading that I wasn't optimally able to enjoy this book, missing out on a lot what Coupland was probably trying to get across. I do want to read this one again, but in English.]
(4 seems a bit too high of a rating for this, while 3 is too low)
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