Generation X by Douglas Coupland

I read this for the first time ten years ago, and because he’s one of my favorite authors and he has a book forthcoming called Generation A, I decided it was time to revisit this modern little gem.

The story, told from Andy’s perspective, revolves around three twenty-somethings who have abandoned their lives in the mainstream and set up in the desert of Palm Springs where they work “McJobs” (a phrase, if not coined by Coupland, then certainly made popular by him) and tell each other bedtime stories, sometimes in the middle of the day. They are minimalists who are floating untethered in the early 90s, a time when you were either a Yuppie devoid of any kind of personality, or you were leftover from the days of Ozzie and Harriet. Andy, Dag, and Claire just can’t see themselves anywhere. What’s worse - they can’t see the future. Dag is obsessed with the threat of Nuclear Holocaust. Claire spends most of her time stuck in a Dead-Celebrity Obsessed funk, and all of Andy’s stories take place in Japan, where he spent time as a student.

Other people drift in and out, but they mainly serve as punch lines or cautionary tales. Andy’s little brother (who might be the protagonist in Shampoo Planet) dreams of working his way to Middle Management, but is right now still living at home because he hasn’t hit 25 and there’s no sense in leaving, yet. There are 5 other siblings that we never meet, but hear about briefly. They are equally cautionary - they “Boomerang” home to live with their parents on a startlingly regular basis.

The margins of the book are filled with cartoons and Urban Dictionary type definitions which serve to help conceptualize the zeitgeist of Andy’s world. At many points it is obvious to see where other people became inspired by Coupland’s opinions. Fight Club, for instance, while brilliant in its own right, appears to have lifted themes right from the pages of Generation X. Or maybe it’s because I was a young teenager when both books were released that I missed the universal cultural apathy that was happening. Perhaps everyone under the age of thirty Checked Out of the expected life in the early nineties.

They aren’t hopeless, though. Not at any point do these three characters stop having plans, obsessions, interests, and fun. They are just achingly self-aware and wittily critical about Life In General.

Coupland’s novels and characters have grown and evolved since this debut novel released eighteen years ago, and they are all worth reading. Start with this novel, though. So you have a jumping off place for all of the neurosis you will surely encounter as you make your way through his catalogue of cultural observation.

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