This book is a full-length study of Douglas Coupland, one of the twenty-first century's most innovative and influential novelists. It explores the prolific first decade-and-a-half of his career, from Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture (1991) to JPod (2006), a period in which he published ten novels and four significant volumes of non-fiction. Emerging in the last decade of the twentieth century—amidst the absurd contradictions of instantaneous global communication and acute poverty—Coupland's novels, short stories, essays, and visual art have intervened in specifically contemporary debates regarding authenticity, artifice, and art. This book explores Coupland's response, in ground-breaking novels such as Microserfs, Girlfriend in a Coma and Miss Wyoming, to some of the most pressing issues of our times.
This book is structured around thematically focused chapters that consider Douglas Coupland's engagement with narrative, consumer culture, space and religion. This chapter locates Coupland's writing—both his novels and non-fiction—alongside parallel examples of music, film, television and cultural debate of the period. It prioritizes his emergence in the 1990s in relation to the wider X generation phenomenon but also considers issues of reception and thematic and formal development. In most instances, the books have been grouped chronologically, although Life After God and Girlfriend in a Coma (1998) are discussed together primarily on the basis of a shared theme.
This chapter explores Coupland's representation of three distinctive but interconnected forms of space. The first section addresses the built landscape, including those most obviously postmodern spaces described by James Howard Kunstler in The Geography of Nowhere (1993) as ‘Capitals of Unreality’. The second section explores the impact of travel on space with particular reference to the boundary genre of the road story. Many of Coupland's meandering road stories take detours into the wilderness or desert. The last section explores the novelist's engagement with these barren spaces.
This chapter explores the evolving representation of religious belief in Coupland's work via three connected areas of discussion. The first section locates his fiction in the wider context of the apparent ‘sacred turn’ in contemporary culture. The argument then focuses on the most frequently recurring manifestation of Coupland's spiritual sensibility in his use of epiphany as a structuring motif in a number of the novels including Generation X, Life After God, Girlfriend in a Coma, Miss Wyoming (2000) and Eleanor Rigby. These visionary encounters are related to concepts of apocalypse. The final section examines the theological and cultural implications of Coupland's representation of ‘end time’ narratives.
This chapter uses JPod, Coupland's surreal tenth novel, to re-read aspects of his work and, in particular, his recurrent interest in visions of the future. It uses this absurdist science-project or anti-art manifesto as a lens through which to review his creative work and its aesthetic and ideological implications. Whatever the future of Coupland's writing, it is unlikely to be found in a retreat into the past. The twenty-first century landscape of his recent fiction is frequently troubled; it is marked by random violence, loneliness and moral ambiguity. But, the future is dynamically open. A comforting vision of the past holds no temptation for this writer of the ambiguous, dangerous, beguiling present and possible future.
This chapter addresses Coupland's formal and thematic approach to narrative: it traces the relationship between what de Certeau names the ‘interminable recitations’ of those now prevalent commercial stories and the necessity, in Coupland's fiction, of the storytelling act. A crucial concern is the novelist's ongoing interest in the representation of time. Coupland's persistent literary exploration of temporality and its relationship with human identity resonates with H. Porter Abbot's claim, informed by the ground-breaking work of Paul Ricoeur, that ‘narrative is the principal way in which our species organizes its understanding of time’.
This chapter explores Coupland's ambiguous representation of consumption with particular reference to his evolving, and idiosyncratic, fascination with rubbish; waste is a vital and ethically complex category in his fictional aesthetic. Indeed, the novelist's work resonates with the founding concept of Don DeLillo's Underworld (1998), that ‘waste is the secret history, the underhistory’ of civilization. It focuses on Coupland's interpretation of the practices and unconscious habits of mind that surround contemporary commercial activity. The first section focuses on Coupland's evocation of consumer culture. The second and third sections explore the afterlife of objects.