Picks and Pans


From People (August 5, 1996)

by Lan N. Nguyen

In 1995, Douglas Coupland, the unwilling guru of the twentysomething crowd, announced that gen X "is over." Tired of distortions of his cultural observations, he hoped this declaration would halt the media circus. Yet, in this fifth book, Coupland continues to mine the same themes that made him semifamous. Polaroids from the Dead, a collection of previously published essays and fiction, reads like a lightweight reprise of his other works. A skillful editor would have helped a lot.

Polaroids fits together awkwardly. Part One, a series of fictional tales inspired by a Grateful Dead concert, explores the legacy of the 1960s' counterculture. It doesn't ring true, primarily because Coupland relies too heavily on his usual generational stereotypes (disaffected youths with guilt-ridden, ex-hippie parents). Part Two is a wide-ranging look at such cultural landmarks as Palo Alto, Calif., the brain trust for Silicon Valley, and retail stores in the former East Berlin. This is the most personal part of the book, brightened by such less stylized moments as his description of his goddaughter: "Rachael glowed in the candles, so obviously created out of love by my two friends that it made me speechless to know that such pure love can, and does, exist." "Brentwood Notebook," a powerful but wordy essay on the price of fame, ends the collection.

Coupland's language is too often glibly hip: "We emerge from our mother's womb an unformatted diskette; our culture formats us." But what makes Coupland worth reading are cutting remarks like this daughter's rebuke to her father during an argument: "Stop making us have to subsidize your disillusionment with the way you turned out." His voice still resonates with the generation he named. (ReganBooks, $18)