I stumbled upon Douglas Coupland’s 1991 novel Generation X – Tales for an Accelerated Culture by accident while on my weekend getaway to London. Simply wanting to roam a bookstore, I wasn’t really looking for anything in particular but I decided then and there that I would get a book I’ve never heard of nor was already dead sure I would like. There it was, sat on a table with other books collectively labelled “Cult Classics”. It sparked my interest, especially, because I love reading about society and culture and although some writings on certain generations can be quite frustrating (Millennials, everyone!!), I still find them fascinating.
Generation X is an interesting book for several reasons. The thing that first catches your eye? The images and terms often included at the bottom of the page. The mostly sarcastic or witty “comics” and the explanations of his word-inventions, which are affectionately referred to as ‘Couplandisms’ by fans, are usually related in some form to either a character or storyline in the respective chapter. Some of these word-creations found their way into the vernacular; in fact, Coupland is credited for popularizing (not coining, as some sources falsely state) the term ‘Generation X’.
McJob: a low-pay, low-prestige, low-dignity, low benefit, no-future job in the service sector. Frequently considered a satisfying career choice by people who have never held one.
Virgin Runway: A travel destination chosen in the hopes that no one else has chosen it.
Terminal Wanderlust: A condition common to people of transient middle-class upbringings. Unable to feel rooted in any one environment, they move continually in the hopes of finding an idealized sense of community in the next location.
Native Aping: Pretending to be a native when visiting a foreign destination.
About the novel itself: Generation X is a framed narrative consisting of short stories that are centred around a general idea or principle. Among the titles are: “Our Parents Had More”, “Dead at 30 Buried at 70”, and “Purchased Experiences Don’t Count”. The book follows a group of friends, Andy, Dag & Claire who have all escaped their old hum-drum lives to live close to the Californian desert. They are all 20 something, educated, somewhat unhappy with their current life, disillusioned with society and capitalism, and in search of a more fulfilling way of living. Part of their coping mechanism in this mean, dreadful world is to tell each other stories; some of them true, others made up in order to bring a message across. I personally enjoyed the “true” stories most as they gave one a better idea of who those characters indeed are, what they’ve been through, what they are wishing for.
After finishing the book, I decided to check goodreads and see what others thought of the book. What I found was what I would call mixed reviews: some people seemed to love it, the rest truly hated it. The biggest issue for most was that the book is pretentious and the main protagonists are, to put it bluntly, a bunch of whiny, white, privileged people in their mid-twenties who are dissatisfied with the way things are. As one reviewer said: “Coupland is genuinely brilliant and there’s no doubt that he’s a fantastic writer. However, you wish that he would take his head out of his arse”. Another was even more drastic when calling Coupland one of the “most overrated one-trick-pony writers of all time. Pretty much all of his novels are pretentious, pseudo-intellectual crap masquerading as high-brow literature”. I do think these commenters have a point…the second example I’ve given here does go a bit far and as I haven’t read anything else from Coupland I cannot judge his other work (I put that comment in merely because I found it amusing) but overall, I feel that some of the issues of Generation X that are addressed fall a bit flat or are presented simplistically. This, however, does not mean I did not enjoy reading Generation X. It definitely outlines the struggles young people in the 90s faced and how the generational divide caused lots of misunderstanding and as a young person, I could understand (and have felt) their frustrations. All in all, Douglas Coupland’s Generation X is worth a read, whether or not one considers the characters obnoxious, simply for its portrayal of a youth culture that did very much exist and its insight into that generation’s aggravations and dreams. To end with a more positive feedback from yet another goodreads commenter: “This was the first novel that I read that questioned the American Dream or traditional values”.