Book Review

Generation X by Douglas Coupland

Photo on 09-09-2014 at 12.36 #2

Well, err… this was nothing like I expected.

I LOVED, when I was younger, the brash 80s decadencia* of writers like Bret Easton Ellis, Tama Janowitz and Jay McInerney. I loved Martin Amis’ Money, I loved Ryū Murakami’s In The Miso Soup, Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting, I’d have loved Geoff Dyer’s dire** Paris Trance if I’d read it at the time. There are others, part of this trend of writing about money and booze and drugs and sex and decadence (Trainspotting absolutely falls into this category – no one is wealthy, but everyone is decadent) that directly spins back all the way to Fitzgerald’s This Side of Paradise and more truly folds back even further to Rousseau’s Confessions and the early bits of St. Augustine’s Confessions***, and one could even argue that the wealthed-up sex of the Bible’s ‘Song of Solomon’ is an even earlier example of writing about people having a lot of sex and fucking loving it.

These books are popular, and a genre I used to really enjoy: I even wrote a rough (and far too long) draft of one a couple of years ago.**** I never read Generation X while I was ingesting lines of Tama, free-basing Bret or rolling up a copy of Bright Lights, Big City and using it to honk up coke from my own erect penis. And, thus, in the eternal hangover that is my mid-twenties******, I’ve never once considered reading the book that (I thought) named them all – a book I was expecting to be a blockbuster bender of excess, its neon pink cover taking me back (before it was even open) to the kind of all night rave that I was never cool enough to go to but went to anyway with a sneering veneer of disapproval.

But Generation X is nothing like that. Generation X is not about the big money and big consuming big-haired bigness of the 1980s, it is instead about the other side – the anti-yuppies, the nobodies, the nothing.

Generation X is about people who value time and friendship over affluence and sex. It is about people who praise story-telling and travel and adventure over stability and careers. About people who own nothing and aspire to owning nothing, who dream of happiness rather than wealth, who have had jobs and property and run away from them, who care about life rather than expectations.

There are people in the world, still, now, who believe that getting a mortgage and having children counts as “doing something with their lives”. What utter fucking tosh. I, and many of the people I know and like, are about as Generation X as one can get. I work in a bar and spend the daytime reading and writing. I actively aspire against entering into permanent office work. I don’t want a pension or a 25-year loan… I am these characters. These characters are me.

So what does this mean? That I’m 25 years out of date? That I still represent a sub-category of drop-outs from a generation ago? Because I’m not Generation Y or even fucking Generation YOLO, I’m plain and simply Generation X – in its attitudes, its aspirations and its intentions.

But the book, Scott, return to the book…

Generation X is a series of stories, I suppose. Short stories within the framework of a short novella. About people who quit their city jobs and city lifestyles and become bartenders out somewhere beautiful and desolate. Sounds like a dream.

The book is witty and funny and, yes, not particularly deep, but it woefully captures a mentality and a mindset that I, myself, have fallen into. This is a nicer book, a kinder book, than Slaves of New York and Less Than Zero, for rather than writing with venom about people the writer despises but cannot escape from, Coupland writes pleasantly and sympthetically about people who he probably would and does like to be around.

It is not an 80s novel in any sense I was expecting, and that was a relief.****** But what it also was, which depressed, was a window into my own lack of originality and lack of connectedness to the contemporary world. I am as the generation before. I am dust.

(Please note that that makes it sound like the book was depressing. It’s not. I’m being theatrical. A fin de siècle man, I am, but lacking the end of an era to mourn. Alas, alas, alas…)

Worth a read. And not just as a period piece.*******


* I think I’ve made that up, but it’s GOLD.

** Boom boom.

*** The sex bits, not the god bits.

**** It was called White Lines, Black Truffles and there are a couple of “extracts” from it on this blog, here and here. NOW I WRITE ABOUT SPIRITUALISM. (And people shitting themselves.)

***** Or does 26 count as late twenties? (I had a birthday last week. CLOSER TO DEATH! CLOSER TO DEATH!)

****** The book it most reminded me of was Dave Eggers’ A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius.

******* I.e. American Psycho.

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