More Notes From A Listless Generation


From The San Francisco Chronicle (February 8, 1994)

by Brad Newsham

After the release of his first two novels, "Generation X" and "Shampoo Planet," Douglas Coupland was acclaimed for having his finger on the pulse of the twentysomething generation. Critics called "Generation X" a modern-day "Catcher in the Rye."

But readers of Coupland's third book may wonder what all the fuss was about. "Life After God" is a collection of 10 connected short stories narrated by 10 mopey young men who exude a similar self-absorbed listlessness. No generation can be captured by a one- dimensional point of view, and the lack of diverse voices soon becomes distracting.

So does the format. Fewer than 100 pages of material (easily readable in less than two hours) have been quadrupled by liberal insertions of Coupland's rough doodlings, and by a whimsical spacing system (some pages feature nothing but a fraction of a sentence - one page is blank but for nine words), and by a smaller page size (4 by 6 inches). You can almost hear the debate in the publisher's office: "So what if it's short - he's hot."


Coupland's stories chronicle the angst of the generation born during the upheavals of the 1960s. Fractured families are the norm, and the threat of nuclear holocaust forms a constant backdrop in the characters' minds. In one story, two characters fantasize about whether it would be a good thing to be abducted like Patty Hearst - "to disappear from the world completely for months . . . given up for dead . . . left in an uninterpreted dream."

Coupland's characters seem to want something solid to anchor their lives but are thwarted by a culture devoted to fads and fashions. We get the feeling that at any minute they will curl up in the road and cry. Indeed, when one finally does take control of his life, his first act after walking away Douglas Coupland writes about fractured families from his office job is to drive deep into the woods, pitch a tent and lie down it in - still dressed in his business suit and tie.

At times, however, the book's offbeat quality is touching, even disarming.

While inventing animal stories for his offspring, one sad young father muses: "I think that if cats were double the size they are now, they'd probably be illegal. But if dogs were even three times as big as they are now, they'd still be good friends. Go figure."

Morbid Donny

And a transient hotel resident named Donny "said that stabbing didn't hurt nearly as much as you'd think and that it was actually kind of cool . . . He was actually getting a little bored of being stabbed. He said that in the end his big goal was to get shot."

The book gathers strength as it continues - one comes to appreciate the characters' quirkiness, and the two best stories come at the end. (One is a "Big Chill" account of seven high school friends following divergent paths into adulthood, the other an account of the hole left by a daughter who runs away from her family.)

"Life After God" reads like the journal of a talented and troubled personal friend, and at times can be captivating. Coupland fans may revel in it, but those drawn by the "voice of a generation" hype may wind up disappointed