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Douglas Coupland: Generation X

The book that gave its name to a generation! It has been called the Catcher in the Rye of its generation and that probably is as good a description as any. Andy, Claire and Dag quit their jobs and their parents (where you’re from feels sort of irrelevant these days) and head off to California – specifically the scuzzy end of Palm Springs – to find themselves. Most of this novel is stories they tell (inspired by Alcoholics Anonymous!) though its format – with clip art, cartoons, Generation Xisms in the margin and various other graphic additions – make it different and gave it the reputation of not being serious. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Dag worked in advertising in Canada. He has eyebrows is Claire’s description of him. One day, he has had enough – he is fed up with the fashionably eighties sick building syndrome – and lets loose to his boss and then quits. Drops out, bums around and ends up in Palm Springs with Claire and Andy. Claire is escaping from her father and his trophy wife (his fourth). She is with her family visiting Palm Springs, complaining about her job in the garment business so jammed with dishonesty. Andy suggests she joins them and she does. Andy himself, of course, is the decent guy from Portland, Oregon who adds whatever stability there may be.

They also make up stories, creating fantasy worlds such as Texlahoma where it is always 1974 – the year after the oil shock and the year starting from which real wages in the U.S. never grew again. It’s a sad Everyplace, where citizens are always getting fired from their jobs at 7-Eleven and where the kids do drugs and practice the latest dance crazes at the local lake, where they also fantasize about being adult and pulling welfare-check scams as they inspect each other’s skin for chemical burns from the lake water. We get one story from there – the story of Buck the Astronaut – which turns out to be the inevitable cynical story of shabby reality, shabby sex and shabby lives. But the novel as a whole has no plot. Real life has no plot, no beginning, no end. But, make no mistake, this is a serious novel about late 20th century alienation.

Publishing history

First published 1991 by St. Martin’s Press