'Life After God' Proves Lively


From The Arizona Republic (March 13, 1994)

by Julie G. Richardson

A lonely bachelor drives along a desert highway, delivering steroids and hypodermic needles to a physical trainer in Beverly Hills. Scanning radio stations, he hears broadcasts from Christian evangelists. The messages praise Jesus, equating him with friendship, love and every other human need. The driver listens as if he were trying to decipher a foreign language. Meanwhile, the barren landscape forces him to close his windows to keep the nothingness from "seeping" into his car. How does someone cope with life in a society that has shifted off its spiritual foundations? Douglas Coupland addresses this question in Life After God, a compact book of short stories told by a narrator named Scout. Scout, who describes characters as they face adult life in a spiritually bankrupt society, is a dramatic departure from the ultrahipsters in Coupland's first two books, Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture and Shampoo Planet. Published in 1991, X, with its witty terms ("McJob" and "vaccinated time travel"), seemed to sum up the world of twentysomethings.

Adults left on their own

In Life After God, Coupland's unmitigated style is backed with substance. Through Scout, he questions the existence of true love and self-fulfillment in a thankless career. One is essentially alone - a realization nearly everyone makes once initiated into adulthood.

No longer having a solid religious background, adults must rely on their own resources. Some characters react to this challenge by retreating. In Patty Hearst, Scout pines for his older sister Laurie, who has lost touch with their family - and the real world. He clings to memories of episodes between them that he calls "snapshots."

She fantasized about being kidnapped like Patty Hearst and being forced to adopt a new identity. Later, she retreated from suburban boredom by turning to drugs and running away. If he ever sees her again, Scout would tell her that "she is kind . . . that God is good, too, and that beauty surrounds us - and that the world is knowable."

'Sentimental candor' works

Gettysburg calls to mind a tragic loss of innocence. The story features a father explaining to his daughter why her mother is divorcing him. He recounts their whimsical honeymoon of hotel dives and shooting at road signs. But the fun and frolic have dwindled into pizza and video rentals, and his wife is no longer in love with him.

Some may hear Coupland's references to God's creatures and spiritual rejuvenation as corny or New Ageish. But without them, the work would seem too pretentious. Life After God is his gutsiest writing to date