Preparation X


From The Ottawa Citizen (March 13, 1994)

by Ken Rockburn

When he was on his last book tour, Douglas Coupland went out of his way to be an insufferable pain in the behind. The 34-year-old author of Generation X and Shampoo Planet seemed to feel, perhaps justifiably, that all this "voice of a generation" adulation was just a tad late in coming. Consequently, he adopted the whiny, nasal, oh-so-weary tone of the artist-in-demand. His new collection of stories, Life After God , comes with a question-and-answer sheet from his publisher. Judging from his answers, it doesn't appear his attitude has changed. "I only have a limited number of human interaction credits per day," he says. Some might be tempted to count this as a blessing.

Fortunately for him, that tone did not manifest itself in Generation X and was only slightly evident in Shampoo Planet . But there were other warning signs Life After God might be the writer's swan dive into pretension. One was Coupland's assertion that each of his line drawings throughout the book "allows pause for reflection," another was the publisher's assertion that Coupland has "put his fingers firmly on the pulse of the absurdities that form the marrow of our very existence."

Life After God is a series of stories set on Canada's West Coast, about young people trying to live their lives without any sense of spirituality or religion. Coupland presents a generation floating aimlessly through a junk-food, high-tech, fast-forward culture with no lifeline to the reassuring solidity of faith and belief, searching for something they cannot define. It is Douglas Coupland growing up and, despite the fallacious contention that his is the first generation raised without religion, he can occasionally do justice to this interesting premise.

"Life was charmed but without politics or religion," he writes in the story 1000 years (Life After God). "It was the life of children of the children of the pioneers - life after God - a life of earthly salvation on the edge of heaven. Perhaps this is the finest thing to which we may aspire, the life of peace, the blurring between dream life and real life."

But more often than not, the reader is subjected to passages like this: "I thought some more about the animals. And this in turn made me think about humans. To be specific, I wondered about what it is that makes humans, well ... human? What is human behavior? For example, we know what dog behavior is: dogs do doggy things - they chase sticks, they sniff bums and they stick their heads out of moving car windows." And dog spelled backwards is god.Coupland has flashes of good writing and real insight, but they are too few and too far apart to be impressive. He either isn't trying hard enough or he just doesn't have it in him. In the 1988 film, Heathers , two high school girls emerge from the funeral of a friend. One asks the other what she is doing that night. "I dunno, comes the reply, "mourn TV. Coupland has yet to show he can be this sharp.

Life After God is also available in talking-book format, with the author reading his material the way he thinks it should be read. Depending on your point of view, it may or may not set your marrow pulsing. Ken Rockburn is an Ottawa freelance writer who is thankful he is not a member of Generation X. As host of the now-defunct Medium Rare on CHEZ-FM, he interviewed Douglas Coupland on his last book promotion tour.