The Generation X-Man Searches For Meaning


From News & Record (April 10, 1994)

If any other writer under 35 had assembled a series of first-person short stories barely long enough to constitute a term-paper, the publishing industry would never have taken notice. But when the writer is Douglas Coupland, the marketing machine gears up.

And so arrives Life After God, Coupland's third "book." The term must be used loosely because Life After God has oversized print on undersized paper and lots of doodles. That's the only way you could without blushing stretch these eight stories into something you could call a book.

Still, the 33-year-old Canadian's previous efforts have been far-reaching. It was Coupland who christened the post-Baby Boomers Generation X. Madison Avenue then grafted that label from Coupland's first novel of the same name onto his generation, mainly for marketing purposes.

In the rush to sell the twenty-something set mountain bikes, soft drinks and Patagonia outerwear, few people may actually have read Generation X, which wasn't so much a great novel (it had no real plot or memorable characters, actually) but a depressingly accurate portrayal of a generation's collective experiences and mind-set.

The full title of Coupland's first book included the subtitle, Tales for an Accelerated Culture. This often-dropped suffix is a theme that barrels through all of Life After God. Today's young adults never take the time to think about what's really important, Coupland seems to be saying, what with drugs, endless television shows and ubiquitous shopping malls to absorb.

Coupland hasn't lost his ability to crystalize everyday experiences into existential horrors. The author who brought us McJobs now delivers new stories that marry chain fast-food to nuclear annihilation or liken his sister's disappearance to Patty Hearst's kidnapping.

The struggle to define self is the focus of the first-person narrators of the stories in Life After God. Maybe, Coupland suggests, God is what's missing in this hyper-secular world.Not that Coupland has found Jesus through some televangelist while channel surfing. The only mention of Jesus comes when one of the narrators listens to a Christian radio station. Instead, the quest for God in these stories takes the form of a question: Is there a Higher Power and if so, shouldn't I care?

Such questions signal a promising evolution for Coupland. Rather than obsessing (however humorously) about crass materialism and pop culture, Coupland has wandered into some bigger themes. Life After God could be the start of Coupland's growth from a clever, witty cash-register to a first-rate novelist