Escaping eXile


From The Boston Herald (February 24, 1994)

by Frances Katz

Your parents did it. The boomers did it. And now, Generation X-ers, you must do it, too.

You must grow up.

And how do we know this? Because author Douglas Coupland - who first named you - says you must.

His new book 'Life After God,' (Pocket Books, $ 17) is a palm-sized volume of short stories filled with dissolution, desperation and the grim, grown-up realities of family obligations, a boring job and broken relationships. Even though Coupland hasn't lost his trademak penchant for obscure pop trivia, the book's bleak tone is more unsettling than the sardonic nihilism of his first two books, 'Generation X' and 'Shampoo Planet.' Closer in tone to Arthur Miller's 'Death of a Salesman,' the book ponders a world and a narrator who have nothing to believe in. Particularly disturbing is achapter titled 'The Wrong Sun' in which various people graphically describe what happened to them when a nuclear bomb exploded. The book's dark musings may startle X-ers, slackers and other fans who identified with Coupland's twentysomething characters struggling to reinvent themselves with retro furniture, beat-up cars and gallows humor. But the 32-year-old Coupland said he has to move on, beyond the pop-culture, slacker lingo and lifestyles of the generation he unwittingly christened. 'You can drop pop culture references all the time,' he said from his home in Vancouver, B.C. 'Everybody can mention 'The Partridge Family' or 'Jeopardy,' but as you get older and life goes on, you find that that kind of thing is not enough to get you through. Irony just isn't enough.

'When you're younger, you think you invent yourself and start all over, but by the time you're 30 it's all changed,' said - the author, who's done a bit of growing up since his first book - some of it evidently painful, although he won't discuss it outright. 'Most probably, someone you know has died, you've been hurt, you have fallen in and out of love - maybe more than once. You realize your own mortality. I know I sound like Grandpa Walton here, but this isn't something you can say to young people. They won't hear you.'

'Life After God' was originally intended as a series of vignettes only for Coupland's close friends. The stories are connected by the isolation of their narrators and spiritual musings. Prior to the chapter titled 'In the Desert' (dedicated to R.E.M. lead singer Michael Stipe) is a stark page with only the phrase 'You are the first generation raised without religion.' But here, as elsewhere, the author seems to be speaking more for himself than for his generation.

'My family didn't go to church - not even on Christmas. My mom decided that religion and politics weren't for the Coupland children,' he said matter-of- factly. 'I come from an extremely inexpressive, non-touching family. So, I have to reveal myself exclusively on paper. Unless I put all this stuff on paper, I would burst or literally go nuts.'

Coupland said 'Life After God' reflects an especially bleak period that doesn't parallel his present state of mind, but he defends his right to be miserable.

'What's wrong with feeling bad?' he asked. 'It's something you have go through to be human. The challenge for me is to be real.' Douglas Coupland will read from his work 'Life After God' tonight at Waterstone's bookstore on Exeter Street, Boston.