Generation B 

Douglas Coupland Defines Another Generation


DOUGLAS COUPLAND is still in the business of defining generations, still promising to help young Americans understand what they see in the mirror, and he formally embraces his own self-reflexivity in his new novel Generation A, an 18-years-later response to his now-classic Generation X. Style invariably triumphs over substance in Coupland's novels­, and in Generation A more than ever—so it's too bad Coupland places such a high value on substance.

Generation A is set in the near future, and one of the apocalyptic predictions of our age has come true: All the bees are dead. Or so the world thinks, until a young man in Iowa is stung as he drives his tractor through a cornfield. Soon the sting-count rises to five, a culturally diverse gang of young folks who become minor celebrities after their bee encounters. It's a status some relish more than others. (Iowa boy Zack is sanguine: "Ever slept with groupies? They're grrrrrrreat, and if you work it right they'll also do your laundry and cook you omelets.")

Coupland writes a plausible version of the 2020s—the decade looks a lot like ours, sans bees, but cell phones are a little fancier, and people spend a little more time on the internet. French gamer Julien is stung by a bee after being abruptly logged out of his World of Warcraft session; after he's stung, he declines the opportunity to make a phone call, thinking, "Who was I going to call, anyway? My parents? They'd have to pry my mother away from YouTube, where she sits padlocked to a better era and cries...." (Julien gets all the best lines—he also grumpily notes, "I hate the way our bodies move through the world, clip-clop, like beef marionettes.")

Much of Generation A functions as a rompy sci-fi mystery, as the five bee-sting victims try to figure out why they were stung, and why the government is so interested. But two-thirds of the way through the book, Coupland remembers that's he's promised his publishers a book about "narrative in the digital age," and the book abruptly becomes considerably less fun. The book's characters are whisked away by a mysterious scientist to a remote island, where they're instructed to pass their time making up stories and telling them to one another—and with that, the book limply deflates into a gotcha-gimmick worthy of Chuck Palahniuk.


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