Thursday 3 August 2006

Douglas Coupland - Generation X

Imagine being fifteen years old, without a moral or religious guide through the world, that is to say, entirely aimless and without any clues of what life will turn out to be in some years, and then you discover a Canadian writer who is already in his Forties, and you discover his books, one by one, and you find yourself in the characters although they are between ten and twenty years older than you are.
I like Douglas Coupland's first few novels better than his latter because his main topic and aim is crystal clear, though he tries to abstract it more and more in the following ones: the life easily achievable in this world, the life in which you work, earn money, found a family, will leave you empty and without any meaning. In order to fill this hole, you have to ask questions, you have to change things. Bret Easton Ellis shows people who do not do such things, who do not search for meaning, who have confirmed to the values of the society to such an extent that they turn into horrible monsters like Patrick Bateman (a conclusion more easily drawn from Mary Harron's movie than from the actual novel). Chuck Palahniuk, Douglas Coupland's dirtier brother, does the same thing, portraying outsiders from society desperately searching for something and finally finding security in a group of other outsiders, or, alternatively, realizing that their attempt to escape has led them to the wrongs of "Fight Club", so that they have to defeat there very own creations in the end.
But Douglas Coupland – he is like a happier version of Chuck Palahniuk. He writes books that seem to overflow with truth, and you don't even have to dig through all the piss and vomit before you get there.
The common accusation all of these writers have to face is that their main characters all sound the same, and there is some truth in that – the narrator voice of "Generation X", Andrew, does not sound very different from "Microserf"'s Daniel or "Girlfriend in A Coma"'s Richard. He lived his life as a drone of the system, working on a computer in an asbest infected building somewhere in nowhere, US, until the day when he finally decided that life could not go on like that and joined the ranks of Doris, the male lesbian (I had to laugh at that, I wonder whether the L Word creators realized that their creation was not that original after all) and Claire who all have similar reasons. They live in the desert, work in McJobs and they have found meaning in telling each other apocalyptic stories about the end of the world, the future etc.
Generation X is the seed for the latter, in my opinion greater "Girlfriend in a Coma", which is the turning point in Coupland's novels. The story is basically the same as the story of Microserfs, but the novel has a certain original charm to itself, especially the Generation X terms explained on the rim of each page. I do understand why an entire generation was named after this novel, but this generation is not necessarily born between the 1960s and late 1970s – I would argue that there are still some people or are born right now who are later going to identify with this. I do. And I also feel sorry that Coupland deserted this path, especially with the previous novels "All Families are Psychotic" and "Eleanor Rigby" ("Hey Nostradamus" was reminiscent of the old ones) – but I also understand why he had to move on. You can only tell that story ever so often, even if there are people who would like to hear it again and again and again.

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