Soul Of A Generation


From The Seattle Times (March 7, 1994)

by Kery Murakami

Douglas Coupland says in his latest book that we are the first generation raised after God.

He is writing about the same people his novel "Generation X" gave name to a couple of years ago - those of us born roughly after JFK died and the baby boom ended.

But in "Life After God" (Pocket Books, $ 17), a collection of short stories, Coupland has moved beyond voicing his generation's sometimes-annoyingly whiny complaints.

He has gone on to deeper things than inheriting an economy flattened by the baby boomers, before those of us who came afterward could buy our first home. It turns out, he says, that we missed out on God, too. And that's far more troubling than having to work at low-paying, low-prestige "McJobs," a term he coined in "Generation X."

In one of the stories, "1,000 Years (Life After God)," a character reveals, "my secret is that I need God, that I am sick and can no longer make it alone. "I need God to help me give because I no longer seem to be capable of giving; to help me be kind, as I no longer seem capable of kindness; to help me love, as I seem beyond being able to love . . .

"We have religious impulses - we must - and yet into what cracks do these impulses flow in a world without religion?" he wonders. It's a metaphysical trap. And Coupland, 32, looked like a man trapped by circumstance when he staggered into town Friday in the home stretch of a national book tour.

With his brown hair unkempt like a lawn starting to get too long, he looked like a Boy Scout trapped in a dark room on a sunny day. Coupland wore khaki shorts and hiking boots over gray wool socks. He sat cross-legged on the floor, looking out the window at the boats on Puget Sound, 34 stories below his hotel suite.

>After tuning the radio to the alternative music station KNDD - to get a "Kurt Cobain update" (Nirvana's lead singer had just come out of a brief coma) - Coupland collapsed on the floor. Lost stories He said his book is about people who grew up in the 1960s and '70s, "after it became fashionable to raise kids with little or no religious beliefs," he said. He said what a lot of people, and not just Generation Xers, have lost is their "story," the path they think will lend their life meaning. "I guess a lot of people in their 50s and 60s are going through this now," Coupland said, having got up off the floor to eat a sandwich. "They come to work one day and your brother is sitting at the Macintosh computer. 'Guys, I'd like you to meet Jason. Jason is going to replace you all.'

"We're in a period of history, probably unprecedented in history, when what gave a story to our lives has now vanished or undergone a radical reconfiguration."

For the post-boom children of this lesser God, disillusionment comes from the contrast between the expectations fostered in their childhood and the realities they face as adults.

A fairy-tale childhood

Coupland grew up in a suburb of Vancouver, B.C. It was "a life of earthly salvation on the edge of heaven," he wrote - a life like a fairy tale, with the promise it would always be that way. But then he and his friends grew up and discovered "reality bites," as the current movie about Xers is titled.

Coupland's stories are about losing. You're tempted to tell him to cheer up, his whole life is ahead. But time seems to be running out. Pushing us ever faster are things like "the pager, the cordless phone, Federal Express, cable,500 channels. . . ." Coupland won't say what led him to thinking about God, but nuclear apocalypse is also a theme of his.

Coupland was born on a Canadian NATO base in Germany. He writes in the story "The Wrong Sun" of an Air Force base being put on alert, and of "hearing a jet pass overhead, turning around surreptitiously and waiting for the pulse of light to crush the city."

Denies success

You'd think Coupland would be more upbeat. At 32, he's publishing his third book. "Generation X" was a critical success; some reviewers compared it to the great American novels that defined a period, like "Catcher in the Rye" or "The Great Gatsby."

The buzz about "X" fuels interest in "Life After God." Not only is there a book tour, but MTV is showing six 30-second video spots Coupland created. He's hot. But not, apparently, happy.

" 'X' was a flop,' he says testily. "I don't know why people keep saying it was a success."A media creation The book's "success," he says, was a "virtual media creation. The 'spokesman (of a generation)' thing is a big pile of poo. The whole thing was very exploitative, boring and abusive."

A lot of Xers might find staying in a luxury hotel on the publisher's expense account abuse they would relish.

Despite his dislike of that "spokesman" label, Coupland has his finger on the pulse of something. For the few hours it takes to read them, the stories put the world on pause and push the mute button. They cut through the stereos, faxes and MTV, and take us inside ourselves.

With this book, Coupland lays claim to being the soul of a generation: a lost soul