by Douglas Coupland
For me, reading Life after God is like wearing a favorite old sweatshirt. It’s not the nicest thing I have but I love it. Every so often I need to spend time blowing off whatever I’m supposed to be doing, pull my comfy sweatshirt on, and take a break — so I take a Coupland book down off the shelf and reread it.
I’ve had an affection for Coupland’s books since college. I reread Microserfs every few years; I always check to see which of his books I can find when I’m poking around used bookstores. (I’m still uncertainly on the hunt for jPod. For some reason I can’t bring myself to pay full price for the quasi-sequel to Microserfs. What if he wrecks it? Does paying full price somehow make me complicit? Not to mention, it seems somehow right that I find them used, or remaindered, small treasures afloat in the sea of the less-wanted.) Being Generation X myself, I’m squarely in Coupland’s target market. I don’t know that he thinks he has one, but he’s certainly promoted that way.
I remember using pay phones, I had adolescent nuclear nightmares too, and time sure as hell does accelerate in my thirties. So yes, I identify with the characters in Coupland’s stories. If they aren’t me, they are my friends, or they are the people we talk about, the people we think we know or maybe even wish we were. One can never be sure if Coupland’s characters are supposed to be taken seriously, if they are being profound or ridiculous or both; in that way, they are real people.
Life after God (the edition I have) is a little chunk of a book featuring line drawings on the somewhat crude side of realistic on the top of many pages. It’s part of the thing I’ve always liked about Coupland’s books: the idea he was going to do it his way, be it with typographical quirks (Microserfs), unconventional sizing (Generation X), or these little drawings. It’s probably why, when I first read Coupland I suppose I thought his books were amazing and rule breaking and in-your-face current and not like all those other books vying for my attention.
Of course now that we all have the web and MySpace and YouTube and flickr and blogs, Coupland’s antics seem less daring. (Daring in a mass market context, at any rate.) Not quaint, but… from another time, granted a very recent time, but no longer now. The details shift too quickly; what readers are left with are memories and varying levels of recognition. The feelings, however, don’t really change — rather, Coupland’s ability to evoke a time or a place or a particular feeling in one’s gut is still there. It’s still true, and more hopeful than you might expect from a supposed master of the zeitgeist.
That’s always been Coupland’s trick, when it works: to create/capture/mock moment(s) even as they pass, and still provide something really human and hopeful in his stories. Highly recommended.