Monday, January 18, 2010 |
This week at Canada Reads we're highlighting Douglas Coupland and his novel Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture. I'm more than half way through the book and up to my neck in Dag, Andy and Claire's desert funk. Palm Springs, where the trio has fled, sounds wonderful to me. I don't care if there are gooey hunks of extraneous flesh in the garbage bins outside the offices of plastic surgeons. The warmth of the sun is infinitely preferable to the current deep freeze here in Ontario. How very different would Generation X be if it were set during a Winnipeg winter, I wonder? I'm seeing at least one blank-as-snow chapter and several pages of Dag moaning in a vitamin-D-less thrall.
But before we get into Andy, Dag and Claire's tales, I have a story for you. It takes place in the recent past, just over 20 years ago, in fact, when fax machines were considered an efficient method of transmitting information and Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise were still in the honeymoon phase of their power fusion.
During this quaint era, a young Canadian writer decided to give voice to the spirit of the age, to set down the discontentment of a generation, of human beings born between 1960 and 1980. He went to the desert and wrote. (I'm going to assume he did so sans friends or TV.) When he was finished writing, he had a book. It turned out to be a novel that his Canadian publishers didn't want — at least not until it became an international success.
That success continues. Not only does Generation X continue to speak to succeeding generations, as Roland Pemberton's selection of the book for Canada Reads indicates, it's also continuing to sell briskly.
But let's get back to the tales of Coupland's protagonists — the stories they tell one another to pass the time. There's no doubt they're compelling. In a way, these mini-fictions within a larger one are the novel's most meaningful passages. They're fairy tales that allow all three characters to reveal something without being explicitly personal.
Says Andy: "It's simple: we come up with stories and we tell them to each other. The only rule is that we're not allowed to interrupt, just like in AA, and at the end we're not allowed to criticize. This noncritical atmosphere works for us because the three of us are so tight assed about revealing emotions. A clause like this was the only way we could feel secure with each other."
Andy, I hear you. I'm all for the security blanket of prevarication. I think it's going be good for us in the long run.
Generation X is rebellious — that's clear from its uncharacteristic layout and slogan-like chapter headings — and so are its principal characters. Dag, Claire and Andy's actions and impulses run counter to those dominant in contemporary culture. This is a good thing. Let me explain what I mean.
Currently there's a great deal of gut-spilling out there, but very little art. Everybody's revealing something, but there's no revelation forthcoming. Celebrities spend more time talking about their "issues" than they do working on films or music. It's a virus that's spreading. Everyone wants to tell you their deepest darkest secret — in raw, naked detail — and often before the appetizers are cold. This compulsive over-sharing may feed an appetite, but it doesn't really satisfy.
I didn't just enjoy the stories within the story of Generation X — I got swept away in a few and actually forgot where I was in the novel before the tale began. They also made me more curious about the teller of the tale. Who is Andy, really? What's he running from? By giving us art instead of confession, Coupland manages to restore wonder about the private lives of human beings. Can we get a whoop-whoop for Mr. C?
What do you think about all the stories Dag, Andy and Claire tell each other in the novel? What did they mean to you?
One last thing I wanted to share with you: this link to a piece by Coupland in the New York Times in 2006. Not telling you what it is. Just go and look. And please, keep an eye on this site. We've got a ton of great Gen X-related stuff coming up this week, including a blog post from the author.