Ryan's Reviews > Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture

Generation X by Douglas Coupland
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's review
Dec 09, 11

bookshelves: fic-meta, fic-literary
Read in November, 2011

I first read this book in a tent, whenever I stopped to camp for the night during a solo road trip up the West Coast, during a time in my late 20s when I was between jobs. It seemed appropriate reading material.

Plot-wise, it's a pretty aimless book, about a handful of well-educated North American 20-somethings who lead pretty aimless lives circa 1991. As with other Coupland books, the point is not so much the story, but the observations, reflections, and existential angst of the characters, who reject the values of suburbia, commercialism, and yuppie materialism, but have yet to discover some other meaningful thing to put into their lives. The author's real brilliance is reserved for the meta-commentary, the ironic "definitions" and the psuedo-commercial cartoons that pepper the margins. These are still zingy and relevant 20 years later.

As a late member of Generation X, I think that Coupland aims more for a general zeitgeist that he does for specificity. In other words, you won't learn much about the pop culture, music, books, technology, politics, sociological trends, etc. of Gen-Xers. At least, not directly. Coupland goes more for the irony, the self-consciousness, the media awareness/desensitization, the post-religiousness, and the sense of disconnect from the Boomer generation that defined the attitudes of many young people in my rough age cohort. And have, if anything, become even more pronounced in Generation Y. It also captures some of the vibe, I thought, that existed in the Clinton years, when slumming at a McJob was still more of a choice for the college-educated than a necessity.

However, while I can relate to Coupland’s insight, the author is so full of his own wit, that his characters feel more like marionettes acting out parts in an existential play inside Coupland’s head than real people. Honestly, we Gen-Xers spent more of our youth doing standard, mundane youth things than we ever did being so cleverly self-aware. Still, this book deserves credit for establishing Coupland as a voice, and, for better or worse, his style.

If you’d like to read something by him, I loved Microserfs, a novel in which Coupland’s fascination with self-generated culture was a perfect fit for the demographic he was writing about: computer nerds.
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