Author: Douglas Coupland
Release: March 15, 1991
Tagline: Tales for an Accelerated Culture
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Genre: Fiction, Contemporary
Main Character(s): Andy, Dag, and Claire
Synopsis: Andy, Claire, and Dag, each in their twenties, have quit “pointless jobs done grudgingly to little applause” in their respective hometowns and cut themselves adrift on the California desert. In search of the drastic changes that will lend meaning to their lives, they’ve mired themselves in the detritus of American cultural memory. Refugees from history, the three develop an ascetic regime of story-telling, boozing, and working McJobs–“low-pay, low-prestige, low-benefit, no-future jobs in the service industry.” They create modern fables of love and death among the cosmetic surgery parlors and cocktail bars of Palm Springs, disturbingly funny tales of nuclear waste, historical overdosing, and mall culture.
A dark snapshot of the trio’s highly fortressed inner world quickly emerges–landscapes peopled with dead TV shows, “Elvis moments,” and semi-disposable Swedish furniture. And from these landscapes, deeper portraits emerge, those of fanatically independent individuals, pathologically ambivalent about the future and brimming with unsatisfied longings for permanence, for love, and for their own home. Andy, Dag, and Claire are underemployed, overeducated, intensely private, and unpredictable. Like the group they mirror, they have nowhere to assuage their fears, and no culture to replace their anomie.
Declassified by Agent Palmer: Appreciating Coupland’s Generation X Takes Time, Life Experience
Quotes and Lines
“I don’t know, Andy, whether I feel more that I want to punish some aging crock for frittering away my world, or whether I’m just upset that the world has gotten too big–way beyond our capacity to tell stories about it, and so all we’re stuck with are these blips and chunks and snippets on bumper stickers.” “I feel insulted either way.” – Dag
…I wonder that all things seem to be from hell these days: dates, jobs, parties, weather. . . . Could the situation be that we no longer believe in that particular place? Or maybe we were all promised heaven in our lifetimes, and what we ended up with can’t help but suffer in comparison.
As the expression goes, we spend our youth attaining wealth, and our wealth attaining youth.
“…I mean, I see all of us trying so hard to acquire so much stuff, but I can’t help but think that we didn’t merit it.”
“We’re not built for free time as a species. We think we are, but we aren’t.”
“All of this was to try and shake the taint that marketing have given me, that had indulged my need for control too bloodlessly, that had, in some way, taught me to not really like myself. Marketing is essentially about feeding poop back to diners fast enough to make them think they’re still getting real food. It’s not creation, really, but theft, and no one ever feels good about stealing.”
“Okay, okay. We all go through a certain crisis point, or, I suppose, or we’re not complete. I can’t tell you how many people I know who claim to have had their midlife crisis early in life. But there invariably comes a certain point where our youth fails us; where college fails us; where Mom and Dad fail us.”
(“To this day, I prefer talking with incomplete people; they’re more complete”).
“…And Dag, have you ever noticed that your bungalow looks more like it belongs to a pair of Eisenhower era Allentown, Pennsylvania newlyweds than it does to a fin de siècle existentialist poseur?” – Andy
“Very well. But ne dump pas on moi, okay? I’ve got my own demons and I’d prefer not to have them trivialized by your Psych 101-isms. We’re always analyzing life too much. It’s going to be the downfall of us all.” – Dag
Give parents the tiniest of confidences and they’ll use them as crowbars to jimmy you open and rearrange your life with no perspective.
“I remember very clearly standing by the stove and frying a batch of bacon. I knew even then that this was the only such morning our family would ever be given–a morning where we would all be normal and kind to each other and know that we liked each other without any strings attached–and that soon enough (and we did) we would all become batty and distant the way families invariably do as they get along in years. – Andy
“We really must get our fashion act together,” Claire says.
“After the revolution, Clair. After the revolution,” replies Dag.
VSTP: very severe taste problem, that lady.
The corn appropriately stops popping, and Dag stares at his feet. He gazes at them like they were two keys on a key chain but he can’t remember what locks they belong to.
Nothing very very good and nothing very very bad ever lasts for very very long.
There really is something silent and dull about losing youth; youth really is, as Deirdre says, a sad evocative perfume built of many stray smells.
I am reminded that no matter how hard you try, you can never be more than twelve years old with your parents.
Mom sighs. “I really did have such high hopes for all of you kids. I mean, how can you look in your little baby’s face and not feel that way. But I just had to give up caring what any of you do with your lives. I hope you don’t mind, but it’s made my life that much easier.”
My friends are all either married, boring, and depressed; single, bored, and depressed; or moved out of town to avoid boredom and depression. And some of them have bought houses, which has to be kiss of death, personality-wise. When someone tells you they’ve just bought a house, they might as well tell you they no longer have a personality. You can immediately assume so many things: that they’re locked into jobs they hate; that they’re broke; that they spend every night watching videos; that they’re fifteen pounds overweight; that they no longer listen to new ideas. It’s profoundly depressing. And the worst part of it is that people in their houses don’t even like where they’re living. What few happy moments they possess are those gleaned from dreams of upgrading.
You see, when you’re middle class, you have to live with the fact that history will ignore you. You have to live with the fact that history can never champion your causes and hat history will never feel sorry for you. It is the price that is paid for day-to-day comfort and silence. And because of this price, all happinesses are sterile; all sadnesses go unpitied.
You seem like you’re only skimming the surface of lice, like a water spider–like you have some secret that prevents you from entering the mundane everyday world.