April 12, 2011
First published in: 1991
This edition: Abacus 1996 (1997 reprint)
I took this picture about 6 weeks ago. Talk about slacking off! Well, I needed a break from the project for a bit, back to work now
In a nutshell?
I have been calling myself a Douglas Coupland fan for years, ever since I read my first Coupland: HEY NOSTRADAMUS!
…some fan I am. I read nine other Coupland books before I finally got to the one that catapulted the Canadian author into literary fame. I haven't read GENERATION X up until recently.
I keep an extensive journal to document my thoughts and opinions as I read. "Why the hell did I wait this long?" p. 112 of my notebook asks me. Why? I'm not sure. Maybe because I was convinced that I'd already read the best Coupland there is (GIRLFRIEND IN A COMA is one of my all-time favorite novels; ELEANOR RIGBY is my favorite Coupland). I didn't like MICROSERFS as much as I'd anticipated; perhaps I was worried GEN X wouldn't transcend my favorite Couplands, either. (But then it absolutely did.) I didn't want to be disappointed by this one. (And I wasn't.)
GEN X describes, right on the money, the desolation and uselessness felt by the twenty-somethings of the eighties and early nineties, a generation growing up in an unraveling society. Coupland's new generation is weary of their commercial culture, insecure about their own futures. Friends Andy, Dag and Claire have decided to rebel against society and their McJobs by distancing themselves from it in their own way; to entertain (and perhaps, soothe) themselves, they tell each other stories. Escapism is a word that comes to mind.
It's important to note right now that while GEN X does have some kind of general plot (Andy, Dag & Claire), the book is mostly made up of stories. The reader shouldn't expect a fleshed out general storyline. Andy et al. serve more as the common thread, the frame around the stories they tell, the beautiful stories:
"My face went bang, right into my first snowflake ever. It melted in my eye. (…) I saw millions of flakes all white and smelling like ozone, floating downward like the shed skin of angels. (…) To this day I consider my right eye charmed."
The above passage is one of my favorites. I just think it's so moving. So un-materialistic. Almost every line is quote-worthy, though. I love Coupland's other books for their stories; I love GEN X for its writing. I realized this when I was only 19 pages in. That's not to say the stories in this book aren't good; they most definitely are.
One of the best stories for me – and this one example is enough to show you the kind of material you'll find in GENERATION X – is Claire's story of Buck the Astronaut who's stuck in 'Texlahoma' (an asteroid orbiting earth, where it's always 1974) with the Monroe family.
He contracts space poisoning and is perpetually asleep save for a few minutes every day; the only way for him to survive is by getting one of the three Monroe daughters to love him first, then help him take off in his spaceship. "There is just one catch" – there is only enough air for one of them. The daughter (who surely loves Buck oh so much) would have to die but Buck insists he can revive her once he's safe…
All stories are unique, surprising and quirky and lovable in their own way. While they are amusing, they do stress the desolation and cynicism of this generation even more. Being trapped in 1974, nuclear disasters… there's not a lot of hope in these tales. But there's plenty of meaning.
Add the chapter titles (Our Parents Had More, Shopping is Not Creating, Adventure without Risk is Disneyland – to name a few) and margin pop-art cartoons, slogans and definitions of terms belonging to Coupland's "accelerated culture", and the picture is complete. I like how Coupland incorporates pop-art into this book, as consumerism and media are important facets (application, inspiration) of pop-art. It's a nice touch.
Andy, Dag and Claire are my age, albeit it twenty years ago, but I can relate to them in many more ways than I'd initially thought. GEN X is more timeless than I thought it would be. Coupland lives in the "now", he usually is more about capturing that moment in time – and while he grasps the current of GEN X, the feeling behind it seems to be something of all times. I'm pleasantly surprised. I was an 8 year-old in Europe at the time of this book's publication. I could relate to it so, so well 20 years later, as a (late-)twenty-something person. There's a lot of material in here that just resonates.
Unlike with MICROSERFS, which I felt was dated, reading it over fifteen years after publication, GEN X still works. A lot is expected of twenty-somethings (career! family! success in every possible way!) and not every Gen-X-er can achieve that, or wants to achieve what the previous generation – parents – expect from them. To some, the values of our parents are increasingly unrealistic in a society that is always on the move and moves faster, exponentially, accelerating.
I can see why GENERATION X would be groundbreaking in 1991. Coupland gave a voice to, not the entire baby-boomer generation, but certainly a large part of it. The part that didn't want to be stuck in a mold of life "as it should be". The part that has been previously ignored.
We still exist. I kinda think we always will.
In a nutshell
- Definitely worth a reread (that's as positive as it gets)
- The writing itself is truly stunning
- The stories are unique, surprising, meaningful and quirky.
- Zeitgeist captured, yet timeless: can resonate with today's twenty-somethings
N/A (can't really find any cons. I loved this book.)
© Karin E. Lips
2008-2011 and beyond.