Generation in exile


From The Times (August 15, 1994)

by Catherine Milton

At 31 Douglas Coupland should have grown out of blaming his parents for his problems. Many people never do, of course. But when a man writes a book that perfectly captures the condition of middle class twentysomethings, as did Generation X, his readership will expect a certain wisdom. And surely no one could have predicted he would turn to God.

Coupland's latest work, Life After God, is a plaintive portrait of suburban youth betrayed by godless parents. This slim volume of short stories investigates the particular consequences for generation X of its secular up-bringing and toys provocatively with the idea of God. In the story which gives the book its name, and addresses its theme most directly, Coupland explains that at first: "Life was charmed but without politics or religion. It was the life of the children of the children of the pioneers life after God a life of earthly salvation on the edge of heaven."

And in "Gettysburg", a tale of divorce, Coupland explains: "For so many years I lived a life of solitude and I thought that life was fine. But I knew that unless I explored a shared intimacy with someone else then life would never progress beyond a certain point." Faith turns to disillusion: " of my big concerns these past few years is that I've been losing my ability to feel things with the same intensity."

But back in the eponymous story, Coupland explains that people need faith, hence the need for God: "...we have religious impulses we must and yet into what cracks do these impulses flow in a world without religion?" He adds: "My secret is that I need God that I am sick and can no longer make it alone." He uses bleak humour effectively in stories of "beautiful little creatures who were all supposed to have been part of a fairy-tale but who got lost along the way". There is the story of Doggles, the dog who wore goggles and has a drinking problem; Squirrelly the Squirrel who has to give up art to support an unplanned pregnancy; and Clappy the Kitten whose dreams of stardom are dashed by debt.

Two conundrums are at the heart of these disenchanted stories. The first is that children who blame their parents cannot really get on with their own lives. The second is that if belief in God is a necessary vent for restless spirituality, then He cannot be Our Creator. Plainly, even beautifully written, in an achingly nostalgic present tense, Life After God is thought-provoking but profoundly pessimistic. The book succeeds in conveying sadness but may miss its mark as surely as Generation X was bang on target. Coupland offers only unresolvable problems to a generation which understands its predicament and now wishes to consider solutions