Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Review of "Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture" by Douglas Coupland

This is the story of a handful of Generation X-ers, defined as people born between 1960 and 1980.

In the book three late-twenty someones - Andy, Claire, and Dag - separately give up their upwardly mobile jobs and move to Palm Springs, California. There they take up residence in modest digs, take low-paying service jobs, and attempt to live more or less minimalist lives. They entertain themselves by telling stories (made up or real), drinking, snacking, having picnics, and - for the most part - eschewing serious relationships. Their purpose, apparently, is to reject traditional society, which they find oppressive. Though the characters reject the values of their nuclear families (which are not perfect, but whose family is?) they do maintain contact via phone calls, visits, and so on....so their isolation is not complete.

Though the hippie-ish lifestyle of Andy and his friends/acquaintances is amusing to read about, it strikes the reader (at least this reader) as unrealistic and unsustainable. Though a small segment of society can decide to 'do nothing' with their lives and suffer few consequences - if everyone took up this lifestyle the country's economy would soon collapse. And even for those who are determined to stick it out, this kind of freewheeling behavior becomes unattractive when people are no longer young (that is, approach their mid-thirties and older).

The main characters try to be committed to their 'no-strings' lifestyle, but life does impinge: Claire develops a huge crush on Tobias, an exceptionally handsome man - and follows him to New York - where their lives don't mesh. Dag is attracted to Claire's friend Elvissa, and tries to develop a relationship with her - until Elvissa skips town for an even more minimal lifestyle. Dag is also an obsessive vandal, damaging other people's cars and even destroying one by setting it on fire. I would have liked to see Dag punished for this, though he would undoubtedly bitterly resent the fines/jail imposed by outside society.

Regardless of my opinion of the characters (whom I didn't admire), the book is well-written and the characters are believable. It's interesting to get a peek into the thought processes of some Gen X-ers. I think the best part of the book is in the margins, where Douglas Coupland defines some of the original and entertaining Gen-X expressions/vocabulary. If you're curious about Gen X, this is a good book for you.

Rating: 3 stars

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