Generation X by Douglas Coupland

I wish someday I could stop reading a book as if its sole purpose is to get cool quotes from. I intend to approach a book one of these days agendaless, other than that it feels capricious to have them lying around and serving as things to sniff when unable to read them. But I’m handicapped in that pursuit because I’m at that age. Wisdom is obtained not anymore from text books and lectures and stupid power point presentations but from works of fiction, not entirely intended for education. It’s like being Andy, Dag and Claire who are always looking for ways to say things in fancier, some would say literarier ways than is necessary. It has to be understood, this tendency to take slices of wisdom from not too reliable sources is brought about by the need of certain twentysomethings’ inability to cope in mechanical situations and environments while often simultaneously abhorring the notion of structuredness and routine. No one in their20s that I know seem to really know what they want which is such a cliche sentiment but also so true and really not unemphasizeable. I wouldn’t say things like ‘Either our lives become stories or there’s just no way to get through them’ nor would I know anyone who would but people express that type of sentiment so often and when such feelings don’t get past beyond saying ‘I feel so hopeless’ it’s mostly because people don’t quite know how or what else to say other than ‘I feel so hopeless’.

This irritating tendency to get so floored by a book gets even worse because I loved parts (maybe the whole) of it so much that I wrote things in it, particularly where Dag, who was once a corporate worker, expressed what I brainlessly and perhaps carelessly assume is one of the most universal sentiment of those who ever built their lives around their great benefits-bestowing 8-5 job.

I don’t think I was a likable guy. I was actually one of those putzes you see driving a sports car down to the financial district every morning with the roof down and a baseball cap on his head, cocksure and pleased with how frisky and complete he looks. I was both thrilled and flattered and achieved no small thrill of power to think that most manufacturers of lifestyle accessories in the western world considered me their most desirable market. But at the slightest provocation I’d have been willing to apologize for my working life – how I work from eight till five in front of a sperm-dissolving VDT performing abstract tasks that indirectly enslave the Third World. But then, hey! Come five o’clock, I’d go nuts! I’d streak my hair and drink beer brewed in Kenya. I’d wear bow ties and listen to alternative rock and slum in the arty part of the town.

As Generation X is set in the USA, I definitely wouldn’t know anyone who’d think That’s exactly how I feel! because we are Third Worlders. If only we we’re driving sports cars, feeling complete. What we are are third worlders, enslaved indeed. But not without getting our fair share of arty part of town presence.

Generation X is a dangerous thing to read when you feel as if you’re in the exact position that these people are in or have been, ie having horrible bosses, being in unsatisfying cubicles, doing a job that is totally pointless and abstract. Proceed with caution specially if you’re the type to get all weepy when reading something that feels made for you. You can’t, no matter how impactful certain concepts such as Overboarding which is really just a Couplandian idea that means overcompensating for fears about the future by plunging headlong into a job or lifestyle seemingly unrelated to one’s previous interests, is to you, that you tell your co-workers that this is exactly what you’re doing and feeling. Actually, just don’t tell co-workers anything. It’s best to save the desire to cultivate a I’m-an-avid-consumer-of-all-things-intellectual personality for the worthiest of occasions which is to say never. Also, sometimes, things in our lives are not at all like in Douglas Coupland’s books.

For all the ‘sublime’ characteristics Douglas Coupland gives Dag, Andy and Claire, the supposed heroes in this novel, he  treats the ‘yuppie wannabes’ as realistic characters too, sometimes even more so than the three who are always having poignant, adult realizations about life, who are always having ‘delicate little insights’, which is about as Being Twenty-something as you could get. For all his flaws, Tobias, the prime yuppie wannabe feels as real as Dag and company. He’s just as confused and as aspirational as the rest of them. He’s a twentysomething too after all. He just happens to ‘like the hours and the mind games and the battling for money and status tokens, even though you think I’m sick for wanting any part of it… I don’t want dainty little moments of insight. I want everything and I want it now. I want to be ice-picked on the head by a herd of cheerleaders, Claire. Angry cheerleaders on drugs. You don’t get that, do you?’

At some point Dag says they’re always analyzing life too much and it’s going to be the downfall of them all. Towards the end, Tobias the yuppie wannabe leaves the Franny Glass-like Claire. And Andy who has Family Issues would still lean towards his family no matter what he does and where he goes. And as with anything else none of what they seem to have done or said is a big deal. In the end they go somewhere else, unresolved still with their twentyness, and understandably so since their lives don’t look as if it’s going to be bright soon what with the McJobs (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) and the insistence on belonging in the Poverty Jet Set (a group of people given to chronic traveling at the expense of long-term stability or a permanent residence), or even remotely meaningful, what with them being in their twenties. But For Dag, Claire and Andy, the uncertainty seems to be the beauty of it.

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13 thoughts on “Generation X by Douglas Coupland

  1. hey stranger. when i read this i was like, man alive. i read this a couple of years back and i absolutely loved it (maybe something to do with being a bit younger and very, very impressionable). was just weird to find someone who likes the same books i do. i’ve been planning to re-read it for a while now but i haven’t gotten around to it. i’ve also read some of his other books: shampoo planet, microserfs, eleanor rigby, and girlfriend in a coma, another fave.

    and you’re absolutely right about it being a ‘dangerous’ book. it fueled my intense desire to not work. 😀

    so you took a break from IJ to read GenX? i’ve also been doing that in the past but i’m afraid i’ll lose my momentum if i read another book (though i did start reading a few pages of the english patient, i caught the movie on star movies and it made me want to read the novel).

    anyway, IJ update: i’m at page 238 and i think i’m falling in love with the book. hehe. and, i’m getting really, really depressed. pretty heavy shit, esp. the parts about madam psychosis and joelle van dyne.

    a few times times the syntax tripped me up a bit me with its semi-stream-of-consciousness flow but man can dfw write (though i also have to agree with some reviews that he does go around gallivanting through a bajillion [at times unnecessary] characters but i have to learned to just go with it and enjoy all the diversions; besides, i think that’s one of the selling points of the book).

    i also do not care/worry about the timeline. i’m not really sure if it’s that important to the narrative, but i do have a very vague understanding of the chronology.

    🙂

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  2. hey pat, I’ve had and read this like two years ago. love the annotation thing, it’s just so cool. what do you make of the ending? hehe. i’m already picturing out a cinematic ending to that; Steve Carrell would be funny as hell as Dag, if only for that ending. Haha.

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  3. aris, this is a quick read and it doesn’t distract me from IJ.
    it’s almost the same in spirit but this is lighter. this reminds me of then we came to the end by joshua ferris which is also about office hate. hehehe. i love these books about work, ive read eleanor rigby too, it was fine. are his other books any good? i had to stop IJ for 2 weeks since genx is so readable like late night reading, like you would do the bible. daily psalm. 🙂

    i remember madame psychosis, i didnt get her. she has a radio call in show if im not mistaken and shes funny but i dont get her yet. 🙂

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  4. jay, i dont know about the ending, its too bitin just when it was about to get exciting when they go to mexico. bitin! theres a part 2.

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  5. i’ve also read then we came to the end (a gift from my sister); i don’t remember it that much but i really liked it from what i can recall (added to books-to-be-reread pile).

    shampoo planet is a bit like GenX (the main character’s a bit younger than dag, claire, and andy)tho somewhat a bit inferior. microserfs is another workplace book, this time set in the microsoft campus in california; it’s very funny and very nerdy/geeky with all the computer/tech stuff. his ‘girlfriend in a coma’ i liked as much if not more than genX, it’s a bit SF-ish (apocalypse, the end of the world), but not that much to turn-off non-genre readers.

    re IJ: madame P. would make much more sense once you read about her alter-ego, joelle van dyne.

    i’ve made it past page 300. and i’d love to just react to the gajillion narrative threads that i’ve read but i am just too scatter-brained to do so. hehe. let me just say i’m still loving it (tho i am wondering when my brain would just implode from sensory overload). am currently at hal & orin’s discussion of the québécois separatist movements and i have to admit it’s giving me a bit of a headache but still not enough to deter me from keeping at it. 😀

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  6. i just read the joelle van dyne section, took me a while to get that she’s madame psychosis. btw, what’s ‘for the impossibly deformed’ about? it’s funny but im not sure i get the context. 🙂 it’s like she’s making fun of the listeners or provoking them.

    youre way ahead so please dont spoil anything. hehe. i love the transcipt part, with the addicts’ account of their therapy. misdemeanor gargling, etc.

    then we came to the end has tom mota the guy who got crazy because of work. maybe ill look for miscroserfs, it sounds ok. 🙂

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  7. elvissa was my fave gen x character. i thought her story about the boy with the hummingbird eyes was very memorable and sad. it’s my favourite story in the book, too.

    i think one of the scenes that appealed to me most (as i am guessing it did to you, too) when i first read it was when dag kissed andy and said, ‘i always wanted to do that’

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  8. but that was never explored, if dag was really into andy or vice versa so its a little frustrating. parang cute si dag hehe. i loved elvissa’s story too and she had the best story though i liked the man on the man story of claire yata.

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  9. it was never meant to be explored, me thinks. parang it is what it is and that’s that. (kaya ko nga sya like eh, a straight man always wanting to kiss his bestfriend,did it and then cast the whole issue aside). makes it poignant.

    imagine ko na si andy ikaw at si dag si (you know who). kasi ako rin may dag noon – haaaayyyyy!

    naku mag-inuman na lang tayo to dissect this. hahaha

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  10. hahahaha! oo nga… i know who yours is. hehe.

    dag’s sexuality remains a mystery. at kaya nga may hot factor kasi di naexplore. tama.

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