Monday, December 20, 2010

Talking About My Generation

Before I talk about Douglas Coupland's recent book Generation A, I must confess the mixed success I have had with his novels. Whether it was the writing style or my own restlessness, I could not get three pages into his previous work, JPod, though I'm told it is good.  Despite the fact that JPod was relegated to the large pile of books that I need to reread in future, Generation A managed to hold my fickle attention.  

The story revolves around a small group of five people from all over the world who had the misfortune to have been stung by bees.  At this point, bees are considered virtually extinct and fruit is sold on the black market at exorbitant rates.  Thus, scientists want to figure out why the bees were attracted to these people in particular, so that they can turn around the insects' fate. These twenty-somethings are whisked off to be examined by scientists and held in isolation for months while being poked and prodded.  After a period of examination and a brief homecoming, the people are then transported to Haida Gwaii where they undergo further scientific study.  Their isolation allows them to reflect on their position as research subjects, and gives the reader an opportunity to think about how aspects of modern life connect and push people apart.  

Coupland discusses how the lives of Generation Xers are both interconnected more than ever before and disconnected at the same time.  The group of people are brought together by their experiences and quickly grow into a collective which is in contrast to the rest of the world.  Those who surround them are checking out of life and dependent on a new pharmaceutical called Solon that destroys peoples' need for community.  Additionally, there is an environmental bent to the novel.  By showing how disastrous the virtual extinction of one species may be to our future, Coupland shows the importance of conservation.  With these themes, Coupland touches upon some of the large issues dealt with by my generation.  The use and abuse of prescription drugs, the way in which the internet encourages us to live in isolation and connect at the same time, and the worries of our changing environment are huge problems for people my age.  

What impresses me the most about this book is how Coupland uses his great powers of observation and equally effective wit to reveal the foibles of Generation X.  There are many moments in this book that are laugh out loud funny, especially those involving the shameless farmer, Zack.  He will do anything for quick cash and momentary gratification, and is a figure that effectively satirizes the vices of his time.  I identify with a lot of the characters in the book, and think that everyone my age can recognize a bit of themselves in them.  The message of the book really shines through and it is made memorable due to the sheer entertainment Coupland's characters provide.  I'm clearly going to have to give JPod another chance. 

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