Review of Life After God


From New Statesman & Society (July 29, 1994)

by Guy Mannes-Abbott

A couple of years and novels separate Douglas Coupland and Jim Lewis, while a couple of words describe their projects here. They are both books about the possibility of and the necessity for New Edens: oases for desert life. Like a number of American writers over the past decade, from Easton Ellis, Janowitz and McInerney to Cooper and Tillman, their point of departure is the blankest of blank pages. Both books are written against the affectless prose that has often filled it.

It was Coupland whose Generation X (1991) gave an impressively sharp voice to the over-educated, under-employed and under-awed children of the 1960s. Shampoo Planet followed and continued to revel in noisy "Time, with its grand, unfightable sweep ... foaming, raging and boiling". Life After God is Coupland's third book, and like third books by Janowitz and Ellis, it is the product of a crisis of seriousness, of hesitance. The change is marked: Shampoo Planet ended with: "wake up - the world is alive"; whereas the tone of this book is - shucks: "life just catches up with you".

>Life After God is a collection of stories with Coupland's narrative breath alarmingly thinned by altitude. "In the Desert" (prefaced in aerosol by "You are the first generation raised without religion") and "1,000 Years Life After God " are the longest and least ineffective. In the latter, Coupland articulates his concern: "Ours was a life lived in paradise and thus it rendered any discussion of transcendental ideas pointless." Paradise for Coupland is his endlessly lamented youth, spent among swimming pools and Lego, Kraft dinners and malls, TV and books about Andy Warhol. These stories head back for it and end up camping in the forest, where time passes naturally and God supplies "the words that tell us we are whole".

It is an old story. In Generation X he called it "Me-ism", and it is motored here by a narcissistic sulk rather than the recovery of a "sensation of wonder", which he correctly identifies as the problem. These stories work up to, rather than out of that sense, while Coupland spends his depleted resources hauling proprietorial inverted commas up around words like nice and normal