Generation X has it tough


From Calgary Herald (March 19, 1994)

by Grant Mckenzie

Is life everything you expected it to be? Are your childhood dreams fulfilled, or were they lost in the shuffle of years between teenage fantasy and thirty-something reality?

Generation X is growing up, but it's kicking and screaming about the unfairness of it all.

Vancouver's Douglas Coupland became an international best-seller by giving voice to the generation of young adults who had fallen into the cracks left behind by material-hungry baby boomers. In Generation X, he gave us someone to blame and our fingers pointed accusingly at the yuppie scum who have taken all the good jobs, leaving their younger siblings with little hope for the future. In Life After God, Coupland once again visits this lost generation, only to find the people are older and more frightened than ever.

Through eight short stories, the reader is given the chance to peek over the shoulder of a desperate survivor who scribbles madly in his diary about life's many questions. What happens if we are raised without religion? Who do we believe in then? How do we cope with loneliness, anxiety, and the realization of our greatest fear? What happens when your wife, the mother of your child, wakes up one morning to discover she no longer loves you, but can't explain why. As Coupland writes: "This is not to say my life is bad. I know it isn't . . . but my life is not what I expected it might have been when I was younger."

Another voice explains: "Why couldn't they just have told us, 'Kids, this is as good as it gets. So soak it all up while you can?' "

Through his narrative, Coupland opens our eyes to the diverse characters who haunt this realm: Donny, a young hustler who is always getting stabbed and, bored with it, wonders what it must be like to be shot; Cathy, who believes you only get one shot at love, and who wasted her chance on a pair of fists in tight jeans; Laurie, who idolized Patty Hearst, and who vanished without a trace; Mark, HIV positive and scared his parents will abandon him if they ever find out; Stacey, a divorced aerobics instructor who flirts with coke and drowns in alcohol; Julie, who married the perfect man, but still suffers from loneliness; Dana, who skirted the fringes and lost his soul in pursuit of God; Todd, who never wanted to grow up and never did; Kristy, who longs to meet a man she will love forever.

Coupland breathes life into each of these characters with just a few, short sentences. Each one is so real, we would swear we passed them in the street just the other day. The simplicity of his language, however, doesn't disguise his message.

Coupland doesn't offer this generation much hope, and in the end we're left to realize that just as the baby boomers abandoned us for a double-car garage on the golf course, so are we abandoning those who walk behind us. By giving up hope, what do we offer? By giving up on love, how will our children survive?

It's time for this generation to open its eyes and realize that both the child and the adult can survive in harmony within the same body. Perhaps Coupland realizes this and is already at work on his next book. Life After God is also available on book tape. Unfortunately, the tape offers only two of the eight stories. For $ 15, it should have contained at least two cassettes worth of material.

It is also a shame that Coupland reads his own work. His prose is wonderful, but his delivery needs work