My goal is to read a novel a week in 2015. I’ve made it to 11.
– Douglas Coupland, Generation A
One of Douglas Coupland’s many claims to fame is that he likely coined the term ‘Generation X.’ 20 years later, he finally decided to do a little play on that title with Generation A. He says that he got the term from a quote by Kurt Vonnegut given at a commencement address in 1994:
Now you young twerps want a new name for your generation? Probably not, you just want jobs, right? Well, the media do us all such tremendous favors when they call you Generation X, right? Two clicks from the very end of the alphabet. I hereby declare you Generation A, as much at the beginning of a series of astonishing triumphs and failures as Adam and Eve were so long ago.
I believe this is essentially Coupland’s term for the group that has become known as the Millenials, but I could be wrong. It certainly refers to a group that has grown up in the midst of full blown post-modernity.
Anyhow, I have to confess that I have become an all out fanboy of Douglas Coupland (due in part to a common interest in Media Ecology). This is the second Coupland novel I have read this year and I’ve already purchased two more to read in the near future. I thought this particular novel was spectacular on a number of levels.
The story takes place in the not-so-distant future in a world in which bees have become extinct. This makes is quite astonishing when suddenly, within months of each other, five random people find themselves stung. Each of the five then find themselves in sterile rooms having gallons of blood drawn from their bodies in the name of science. What attracted the last remaining bees in the world to these five? Do they have anything in common? Is there a physiological answer?
It turns out there is an answer, and it is directly related to the hottest pharmaceutical product on the planet. It’s reminiscent of Huxley’s ‘Soma’ from A Brave New World in some ways. Ultimately, these five people find themselves drawn together, and then forced together, to find that they have a common narrative. They all, they find, have the same questions about the world. They all long, in the midst of the connectedness of an internet world to find the solitude in the midst of conversation that comes from reading a good story. They are longing to know if their lives are a story.
Is there a meta-narrative? Do our lives make sense? Is there a sense of story? Is there an arc to our lives? Those are the types of questions they are asking. And as they find that, indeed, there is some sense to be made, they end up alone on an island together.
The novel is told in a rotating fashion in which each character shares his or her own perspective on the events. At first, as you’re getting to know the characters, this can be a little difficult; but, after a while it makes the book more compelling in some ways. You find yourself needing to keep reading in order to get through the next series of chapters to get back to the character you were interested in. There is also a lot of humor along the way. Plus, you get the overarching idea that ‘Generation A’ is, above all, a generation looking for significance; looking to be part of a greater narrative.
Brilliant stuff. Great book.