B Reads Canada Reads: Generation X by Douglas Coupland

I bought this puppy at BMV (rad used bookstore chain) at Yonge and Eglinton. It's the genuine article from 1991. It feels like holding a time capsule.

Gen Xers aren't dithering around, having existential crises anymore, they're 40-somethings holding down taxing jobs, huge mortgages and a couple of kids in an economy not fit to shine my shoe with. Could be a generalization but - the boomers won't retire, X'ers are bewildered by an onslaught of entitled kids who were raised with technology they're still learning to use, their generation is generally mocked and remembered via crappy movies like Reality Bites and they get to see everything truly alternative from their youth marketed back to them as the 'new' fashion trend.

Thankfully, though the novel Generation X is crippled by its specificity, it still raises questions that are legitimate today.

Dag, Andy and Claire are living in Palm Springs before it was cool. They're tired of the rat race so they've retired to the desert and checked out of life. They work McJobs and to retain whatever sanity they have left they tell extensive stories to each other, some true, some truly bizarre.

True story: I was prepared to unabashedly HATE this book. Why the F would I want to read a book about three cynical louts riffing off each other for X number of pages, lolling on and on about how miserable life is. I really despise whiners, in life and in fiction, and so I came to this book armed to the teeth with bile.

No dice. This book is pretty cool, if that counts as an endorsement. OK fine, Jesus, I LOVED it!! It's hilarious and subversive and weird (oh I love weird) and it's not pat. It doesn't lick any boots. I dislike book-licking fiction.

What's applicable to Gen Y: being crammed into toxic office spaces and being paid peanuts for the 'privilege' of doing white collar work (please click through to Icanhascheezeburger.com founder Ben Huh's 'job posting' to see a prime example of this. This shit makes my blood BOIL).

Let's not forget corporate double speak and bullshit ideology. Being told by a generation born in the golden age to pad your life with objects in a market where the cost of real estate, travel, gas, even your stupid cereal, comes at a princely sum. The question of how to maintain connections and keep narratives alive where information is cheap, plentiful and usually garbage and where sending an email often replaces real face time.

Also applicable: the story has guts as well as brains. For every wack pseudo fairy-tale that one of the three spouts (a rich crone who hides away in her mansion to meditate for seven years?), there's a scene that really resonates - take Andy's relief at finding his friends asleep, curled together like puppies at the end of a long night of storytelling.

Or take Dag's tale of the end of the earth. It A) this made me realize how fearful I am about this B) the dignity of the man asking to pay for his groceries despite his impending demise was a nice touch C) the occurrence at the end that uh kind of makes the relationship between the three make a hell of a lot of sense. SPOILER SPOILER That Dag had a maybe-thing for Andy was a huge relief. It stopped the story from being bloodless and in 1991, this was surely a risky move.

To those of us who traverse on the 'lunar' side, this book is one of the most knowing you could own.

Just read these quotes and you'll see:
  • "We had compulsions that made us confuse shopping with creativity..." YESSSSS
  • "It is a feeling that our emotions, while wonderful, are transpiring in a vacuum, and I think it boils down to the fact that we're middle class."
  • My favorite: "When someone tells you they've just bought a house, they might as well tell you they no longer have a personality. You can immediately assume many things: that they're locked into jobs they hate; that they're broke; that they spend every night watching videos; that they're fifteen pounds overweight; that they no longer listen to new ideas...What few happy moments they possess are those gleaned from dreams of upgrading."

Next time...is Generation X a good pick for Canada Reads 2010?

7 comments:

Jennifer @ Mrs. Q: Book Addict said...

I was interested in reading this one because of the Canada Reads. I wasn't sure what to expect of it, and it sounded a little strange. Glad you liked it, I'll have to check it out.

Julie said...

I wish his new book, Generation A, had been picked instead.

And hey, I don't know any fellow Gen-Xers who are bewildered by technology. :)

B.Kienapple said...

Haven't read it but will now!

I meant that Gen X is bewildered by Gen Y's easy adoption of technology into their lives..it's a generalization but Gen Y grew up with the Internet etc. so their use of it is generally more intuitive.

Kerry said...

In high school, I wanted to be Reality Bites. That movie set a standard for cool that I will never come close to achieving. It's a film I reference in daily conversation almost as often as Wayne's World. Then again, I don't get out much. And apparently haven't been the movies since 1994.

Ceri said...

I always wondered whether Douglas Coupland was worth giving a go or not. I really liked your review so I'm definitely going to give it a go now.

B.Kienapple said...

Kerry - OK so I shouldn't give Reality Bites so much flack. I liked it when I saw it a few years back - mostly because Ethan Hawke is reading Heidegger's Being and Time in it which I thought was totally hot.

John Mutford said...

Jumping the gun for your post about whether or not it should be a Canada Reads pick, I'd like to add that since you read, and Jennifer plans to, at least partially because of the program, that's proof that not everyone has already read it. Generation X and Fall on Your Knees seem to be getting slack because they've already been popular-- however, there are still plenty of people out there that may have missed them, and that they may resonate with.

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