Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Generation A by Douglas Coupland: A Reaction, NOT A Review

Generation A mirrors 1991's Generation X.” It says so, right there on the back jacket. I read that and figured if Douglas Coupland was returning, in some measure, to the book that inflated him into what he is now, I was keen to read the by-product (A).

I don't usually mark up my books, but three pages into Generation A I felt compelled to take the lid off my Roller-Ball and write, neatly, in the margin: “How can a guy who is almost 50 years old write a book populated by characters so fastidiously stuck in their single 20s?”

I was off to a bad start, but for the first time in years I forced myself to keep going with a book I wasn't enjoying. Unfortunately my mood only got worse.

The proper thing to do is review the book that was written, and not the book I wish was written. But man-oh-man: do I ever wish this was a different book. I picked up Gen A wondering what had happened to those characters I related so strongly to in 1992. Did they finally plug in? Were any of them in a family way? Were they maybe not quite so nervous, smart and medicated? How had they (or characters similar to them) navigated the last 18 years? Now that they, in all likelihood, had the mortgages (etc.) that eluded them in '91, what did they think of their prospects? Let's call this fictional exercise "Coupland channels Updike" — wouldn't that be cool?

That's not the book I've got. And I'm realizing, as I finally put this novel to rest, that I'm at a point where I very much prefer Coupland's interviews and non-fiction to his fiction. He's a clever guy, frequently witty and prescient. But his fiction just ain't working for me anymore.


prairie mary said...

Darrell, I've been thinking a lot about generations lately, partly because of a sequence of visitors. Two sets were my age (The Silent Generation) and one was in their mid-twenties (The Entitlement Generation). I'm not clear about whether the latter got its name because they felt they were entitled to most everything or because they really HAD so much. These two kids said to me, "Thanks for letting us stay with you." Not, "it's so wonderful to see you" or "this was a great adventure", but rather "letting us stay with you." I was a roof and they made it clear not quite an adequate one. There was a long conversation about how lame my dish drainer was. There were a number of occasions for the two of them to go off out of earshot to discuss their wants and decisions. The female (daughter of a cousin) picked up all gas and meals out. The male supplied a lot of veggies from his garden, which was lucky because the female is allergic to everything except what they brought. They spent HOURS in the bathroom. They nearly froze to death in my "bunkhouse." They wanted the heat turned up, the blinds pulled, and the place generally turned into a womb.

I kept thinking about naked molerats.

Prairie Mary

Whisky Prajer said...

"Letting us stay" might also be a partial recognition that their presence is indeed a colossal intrusion. I say this only because I'm amazed they visited you at all, especially if she's as environmentally sensitive as all that.

I wonder, sometimes, if every currently living generation isn't at risk of sliding into an Entitlement Generation. I'm keenly aware, for instance, that Early Boomers are great at helping out around the kitchen when they show up for supper. Late Boomers ("X" -- my generation), not so much -- though they work very hard in their own kitchens when it's their turn to host. Much of this is dictated by familiarity with the current technology. Each dishwasher is different, for instance, as is each microwave: results can vary to the point of ruination if the user isn't familiar with the device. So ... ask, then let the host take care of it (which she will certainly insist on doing). Then say, "Thank you."

But I think every generation can benefit by hanging out with hippies. They're still here, just follow the scent of patchouli and bring along something to share. When you get even a taste of the sense that the journey is the destination, socializing improves just a little.