Coupland’s Generation X

Polaroid by Marion,
Polaroid by Marion,

Sam Jordison in the Guardian Books Blogs looks back on Douglas Coupland’s novel Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture. Jordison points out that much of Coupland’s novel may be lost on reader’s now:

Nor can Coupland be held responsible for the passing of time. The fact that the book is so tied-in to its era is also a mark of how well he was able to situate it. Even so, reading Generation X almost 20 years after it was written is a strange experience. So much of it has become engrained that it’s surprising to be reminded that it was once new – that one person coined all those ideas and terms. But it’s also unsettling because so much now seems distant. In the middle of a recession, it’s hard to feel sympathy for Coupland’s clever-clever characters, Andy, Claire and Dag, as they sit around the pool in Palm Springs and affect depression because their jobs aren’t fulfilling enough. They seem fortunate, innocent and irritating.

Yet, despite the aging of Generation X and the aging the words Coupland used and invented to describe this generation, it is still worth reading:

Gradually, however, to my surprise, I found myself warming to the book. Taken together, the stories began to offer a pleasingly skewed, whimsical view of the world. The adjectival excesses became forgivable when so much of the writing was also lovely (“Starved for affection, terrified of abandonment, I began to wonder if sex was really just an excuse to look deeply into another human being’s eyes”). The lead narrator Andy’s moaning also began to seem less superficial and more universally applicable. We might now think him lucky to have a job, but his deeper concerns still touch us all. Coupland teases these out with such gentle skill that I wanted to put my arm around the poor guy by the time he was saying things like: “I’m just jealous of how unafraid Tyler [his younger brother]’s friends are of the future. Scared and envious.

So what initially seems like a selfish complaint about graduate life at the fag-end of Reganism starts to take on wider significance. It’s a quiet meditation on transience, futility, forging a personal morality. It’s also an entertainingly raucous look at how to have fun in the face of such concerns: at the pleasures and pains of family life and at friendship.

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