Capsule Reviews


From Austin American-Statesman (May 22, 1994)

by Sean Kinch

In the eyes of the public, Douglas Coupland always will be identified by his first novel, Generation X (1991), whose catchy title provided small-minded pop-cultural critics and vulturine advertisers a much-neeed category to lump together the amorphous and unmanageable age-group elsewhere dubbed "twenty-somethings." But that dubious claim to pop fame has not stopped Coupland from producing insightful works of fiction that are only superficially defined by their relationship to a generation, X or otherwise. His second novel, Shampoo Planet (1992), broke the Xer mode just as corporate America was busy capitalizing on it. That work focuses on characters who are younger than those in Generation X and who exhibit none of the earlier novel's social alienation.

Now comes Life After God a collection of stories that further punctuates the narrow-mindedness of labeling Coupland by his first novel and its slacker connotations. The narrators of these tales, each told in the first person, are predominantly in their 30s, confused and lonely, but they also include middle- aged men and women who invariably wonder if life ever will make sense.

The common theme is not estrangement from capitalism or society in general, but quiet desperation that we have lost the capacity to appreciate the magic of our existence. Coupland catches his characters at vulnerable moments when they have to have answers, if only provisional. Coupland's success in this regard is that he avoids falling into cheap nihilism or sloppy sentimentality. In each of the stories there is a tacit acknowledgement that those avenues are emotionally desirable but, based on years of experiences, no longer tenable. Again, Coupland proves that he is less a socially attuned young writer than a thousand-year-old soul seeking the mysteries of his original birth.

Coupland's signature style continues to be his unapologetic use of elaborate similes to describe everyday objects, as if he's trying through his writing to infuse magic into the menial. Throughout this collection, his characters sense that magic is a real possibility, but it's always just out of reach.