Thursday, October 30, 2003

Douglas Coupland booster club, meeting three

Just finished a raft of Douglas Coupland's fiction. Hey Nostradamus! made my jaw swing low in awe so many times, I just had to see what came before.

Thus far I've read:

- Shampoo Planet - Twentysomething deals with the initial steps out into the real world, hippie parents and cheating on girlfriend
- Life After God - Short story collection
- Girlfriend in a Coma - High school friends' stories that revolve around one of their group awaking from a coma after 16 years, and the world ending (no shit!)
- Generation X - His first novel, about three twentysomethings of the post babyboom generation out in the real world for the first time, which coins several memes and terms now taken for granted in journalism, fiction, and film. This was the mother ship.

I'm thrilled to gush that only the short story collection made me eye the TV remote a couple times. Everything else was fun, touching, and most of all written so well that sometimes it makes you (gentle reader) ache.

Every author has his or her constant themes. John Irving: the sweet comedy of life and the constant proximity of violence and tragedy. Stephen King: the horror and humor pulsing under the surface (like a straining boil) of modern American life. Patricia Cornwell: forensic medical examiner who hates men, loves guns, and solves nasty crimes. Dean Koontz: something evil is created in a government lab; everybody pays.

Douglas Coupland's common themes are:

- Fear of obliteration by nuclear war, especially seeing the flash that indicates detonation, thus having time to think about the coming wave of fire, and the world ending in general.

TLD: I think this is common for people my age. I once had a dream where, after the nuke hit, I walked around and saw the shadow left on the walls where my friends had been standing when it hit. I later discovered all of my friends have had that dream. A month or so ago, during a wicked thunderstorm, two lighting strikes detonated like explosions in the sky. Since we are more likely to get hit by a terrorist bomb now than we were in danger of being nuked by the Russians during the cold war, this scared the hell out of me. The whole room went completely white, with only a few stark shadows standing out in relief behind say, a chair, and the shock wave made the windows bulge.

- Fear of humanity wasting our opportunity for making the world a better place.

- Having a wasted life.

- Fear that God isn't there; wanting badly for God to be there.

_ Fear of love and the heartbreak it can bring.

- Inappropriate hair care.

The primary problem with Coupland's fiction (that I've read so far) is that there is never a single happy, uplifting, unalloyed moment. Yes, characters report hitting little pools of contentment, but as a reader, we are never allowed to see one of those moments live, with perhaps the exception of the ending of Generation X where the main character is essentially dog-piled on by jubilant retarded children, which the character reports is the happiest thing to have happened to him. (That isn't really a spoiler, btw.) Thus, there is never a let-up of the wonderful sad tone that Coupland is a master of. Another writer who's tone is primarily comic blue, John Irving, does provide a few laugh-out-loud moments in most of his best work, probably to provide relief. Coupland doesn't do that, to his detriment.

Still, he's a wonderful stylist, a master of tone, wonderful with dialogue, and tells compelling stories. Bet you'll like him if you're not already a fan.

Here are some quotes I liked:

"History does not record my response." [As a response to another character's question] - From Generation X

"Me-ism: A search by an individual, in the absence of training in traditional religious tenets, to formulate a personally tailored religion by himself. Most frequently a mishmash of reincarnation, personal dialogue with a nebulously defined god figure, naturalism, and karmic eye-for-eye attitudes." - From Generation X

"I think there was a trade-off somewhere along the line. I think the price we paid for our golden life was an inability to fully believe in love; instead we gained an irony that scorched everything it touched. And I wonder if this irony is the price we paid for the loss of God." - From Life After God

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