||Getting On With The Mcjob
by Rita Donovan
WHEN Dou(~LAS COUPLAND appeared On the literary scene with Generation X, which the Los Angeles Times dubbed "a groundbreaking novel," the public was introduced to the point of view of a post-boomer, anti-yuppie, disaffected coniing- ()f-~ige-with-a-midlifc-crisis group of young people who skewered a shish kebab Of popular culture while somehow managing to endear themselves to the general reader. We cared for Andy, Dag, and Claire. Or, at least, we watched out for them, knowing that despite what they might think, we too had Suffered lost dreams, lost innocence, Mid lost potential. We recalled the urgency that accompanied their revelations, and we appreciated the humour I they both held and wielded.
Coupland accomplished this with keen observation, a very good ear, and Original terminology that has already made its way into common usage. No One who has read Generation X will forget the language: McJobs, Personality Tithe, Tele- parablizing, Global Teens, Strangelove Reproduction. The language was fresh and, in its own way, precise. This was the way Andy, Dag, and Claire saw their world. And their world was one in which they were, above all, insignificant. One of the more telling lines in the book came when Andy observed: "You see, when you`re middle class, you have to live with the fact that history will ignore you."
Meanwhile, Coupland has not been ignored. Generation X was followed by the novel Shampoo Planet and now Life after God, a collection of short stories. Writing in the clipped, sound-bite style readers are familiar with, and this time adding his own ink sketches, Coupland presents a series of aphoristic "stories" that continue the search for significance
in a spiritually bankrupt Culture. Coupland uses words one doesn`t often see in anything other than religious journals: God, soul. He writes about troubled, thrill-seeking young people who take chances in order to "connect with the profound." He writes Of souls leaping like salmon, of time, and of pain. In one story, "The Wrong Sun," he employs Edgar Lee Masters`s "Spoon River Anthology" technique and has the dead speak of their individual demises by nuclear disaster. He also continues his preoccupations with time, and history, and where the individual fits into the Picture.
These are big issues; these are good things to talk about in a culture numbed
on "Beverly Hills 90210" and the nightly news. And some of the stories work quite well as stories, particularly "In the I Desert," where a drifter helps the stranded narrator and in doing so offers him a kind of humanitarian "religion"; "Patty Hearst," where the protagonist searches for his sister and the other things he has lost along the way; and "1,000 Years (Life after God)," where the narrative follows the lives of certain friends and compares realities in the process.
But other "stories" simply aren`t. They sit uncomfortably within the story form, sacrificing character and narrative for what borders on the quasireligious inspirational texts mentioned earlier. One wonders whether several of these pieces would not have worked better as essays.
However, the book is full of lovely moments of observation/revelation. Coupland frames some of these tales as 11 stories within stories," with the firstperson narrator telling us about the people he knows. In two stories, the narrator is a parent addressing a child. In fact, there is a focus throughout on family relationships: parent/child, sibling, couples. Whether it is a father telling his child that the child`s mother, as a younger woman "felt lost in her own special way. Now she just feels lost like everyone else" ("Gettysburg"); or a young man, in "1,000 Years (Life after God)," coming to the conclusion that "beyond a certain age, sincerity ceases to feel pornographic"; or another young man in the same story, defending his Iifestyle with "and its not like I`m lost or anything. We`re all too fucking middle class to ever he lost. Lost means you had faith or something to begin with...," we feet part of this search for lost souls.
This is Coupland`s gift. To make the reader feel part of it all. Toward the end of the book, in "1,000 Years (Life after God)," a character says: "I have this funny feeling that I Wouldn`t have missed Earth for anything." Elsewhere, in "Little Creatures," the narrator
wishes to find out what it is that makes us "specifically human."
I have to say that, after Generation X, I was disappointed with this book. I didn`t think some of these pieces were stories. I didn`t like the "packaging," which made me feel a little like a second-grader looking at the pictures and mouthing the large print. And I didn`t like the occasional inspirational tone that had me reaching for my wallet. But` Ultimately, I liked what bothered Coupland, what motivated him to write it. As with Andy, Dag, and Claire, I wish him well. And will read him again.