Review of Generation X


From United Press International (January 25, 1992)

by Cindy Simmons

Douglas Coupland says his first novel is just about his life.

"Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture" speaks for people now in their 20s who arrived at the baby boomers' party only to find the wine was gone and someone had licked the Cheez Whiz off all the crackers.

Coupland, a native of Vancouver, B.C., who just turned 30, said he was not trying to define a generation when he wrote the book.

"I was just writing about my own life, but my life is painfully average," Coupland said in a telephone interview. "I'm not suprised there was some overlap."

Generation X strings together stories the characters tell each other about their pasts and about lives they imagine. The storytellers are friends who live next to each other in a seedy part of Palm Springs, Calif., where Coupland once lived.

They are children of affluent families but have traded unfulfilling corporate jobs for dead-end jobs selling cosmetics and bartending. Through the stories, Dag, Andy and Claire comment on life's biggest questions.

One of the group's fantasy worlds is Texlahoma, a mythic land on an asteroid "where the year is permanently 1974."

"It's a sad Everyplace, where citizens are always getting fired from their jobs at 7-Eleven and where the kids do drugs and practice the latest dance crazes at the local lake, where they also fantasize about being adult and pulling welfare-check scams as they inspect each other's skin for chemical burns from the lake water."

Through the stories, the three reveal their deepest fears about nuclear holocaust and userly lovers.

"It deals with a strong sense of loss," Coupland said. The book reflects his generation's frustration at being shut out of middle-class life. "The world just didn't work out the way it's supposed to," he said. "The middle class simply cannot go on the way it did in the 50s, 60s and even the 70s."

Coupland said the nuclear threat, too, makes Xers unable to envision a future for themselves. He likened the feeling to "a Jeffrey Dahmer in your living room that you weren't allowed to mention. It affects your ability to commit."

The new middle class the Xers are becoming, he said, is "materially reduced but value-added."

He said a typical X apartment is very spare. "There are no rugs, they're too expensive, but there is a mountain bike parked in the hall."

A person's life experiences and travels are the source of identity more than things one has purchased, Coupland said. He said Xers feel shut out of the excess yuppies enjoyed.

In a scene in which Dag recounts quitting his job at a marketing firm, he tells off his ex-hippie-now-yuppie boss Martin. "Do you really think we enjoy hearing about your brand new million- dollar home when we can barely afford to eat Kraft dinner sandwiches in our own grimy little shoe boxes and we're pushing 30? A home you won in a genetic lottery, I might add, sheerly by dint of your having been born at the right time in history? You'd last about 10 minutes if you were my age these days, Martin. And I have to endure pinheads like you rusting above me for the rest of my life, always grabbing the best piece of cake first and then putting a barbed-wire fence around the rest."

Coupland said demographers have refused to believe there is a generation X, instead lumping them in with boomers. Even at St. Martin's Press, he said, "the older readers (35 and older) just couldn't get a grip on the attitude. "The in-house reaction at Saint Martin's was so overwhelmingly depressing."

He said they insisted there was no such generation. "Even a year ago, there was wild media opposition" to the notion of a distinct demographic group comprised of people in their mid- to late- 20s, he said. "They've just been grudgingly allowing this group to exist.