It’s been almost twenty years (!) since a young Canuck named Douglas Coupland burst onto the literary scene with a full head of hair and his caustic wit, and although his pate bears witness to the ravages of time, his observations are no less sharp.
Much in the way he updated Mircroserfs for the internet age with Jpod, Coupland updates the plight of the disassociated twenty-something with Generation A. Resetting the alphabet back to A (with a little posthumous help from Kurt Vonnegut) Coupland weaves a tale of the near future in which bees are extinct and broadcasting your story to the world only serves to make you less unique.
Five total strangers become instant media sensations when they are stung by bees, but not before being whisked away and sequestered from the rest of humanity. Upon their release, they find the world a very different place, and are soon reunited on a remote island to tell each other stories. Not their life stories, which have already been documented, but stories of original origin, which bring them closer together, shedding light on recent events.
If Generation X was about storytelling as an assertion of individuality, Generation A is about storytelling as shared experience. Coupland makes a plea for the printed word, threatened by the hive mind of the internet, a place where the fine art of the story has been replaced by collage. The instant gratification of cyber celebrity is the ultimate distraction, sounding the death knell of the novel in favor of easily digestible chunks of information masquerading as art. It may sound like Coupland is a crotchety old man, railing against what is new and different, but he’s not. He is very much a part of the internet age, and desperately wants novels and the internet to coexist.
This is a seriously funny book. Funny and smart. Coupland has always had a knack for social commentary, but this one is just effortless. The older he gets, the more it seems Coupland has a finger on the pulse of the current generation. He has been on a roll with his last few books, and Generation A is yet another success. Coupland’s satire has had a tendency to border on silly in the past (All Families Are Psychotic) and he walks a fine line here, but manages to maintain his balance.
In fact, one person who read it before me was so thrown by the preposterousness of a single sentence, they were prepared to write off the entire book. I was forewarned and wary, but when I arrived at the offending sentence (and I knew it immediately) I found it to be a matter-of-fact summation of the novel’s themes.
Not being a true sequel, you don’t have to read X before you read A; they are connected by theme. But they are a pair, so whether you read them alphabetically or chronologically, you will want to read both. They bookend the last twenty years nicely, from the Baby Boomers to the Millennials. Coupland has grown with technology, and almost seems to belong to each generation simultaneously. You can’t write him off as out of touch. Whichever group you identify with, Coupland’s got your number, and he might just know you better than you know yourself.