Douglas Coupland 1961–
Canadian novelist and short story writer.
The following entry provides an overview of Coupland's career through 1994.
Coupland is best known for his novel Generation X (1991), which, focusing on people born between the early 1960s and early 1970s, coined a popular term for that group. An international best-seller, Generation X prompted critics to call Coupland the spokesperson for his generation. Coupland, however, has resisted this label, stating "I speak for myself, not for a generation. I never have. I seem to travel through life with that one disclaimer." In addition to Generation X, Coupland has written the novel Shampoo Planet (1992) and the short story collection Life after God (1994).
Coupland was born on a Canadian NATO base in Baden-Sollingen, Germany, and raised in Vancouver, British Columbia. After attending Emily Carr College of Art and Design in Vancouver, Coupland travelled to Hawaii, Italy, and Japan, where he completed a two-year course in Japanese business science. Back in Canada, Coupland took what he calls a "bottom-of-the-food-chain" job at a magazine. Of this job, he states: "Our office cubicles were like veal-fattening pens. There was just no dignity." Coupland moved to Palm Springs, California, to write his first book, Generation X, but later returned to Vancouver.
Coupland's works focus on the experiences of young people in contemporary North American society. The novel Generation X is the story of Andy, Clair, and Dag, three "twenty-somethings" who live in Palm Springs. Overeducated for their current jobs, the three are disillusioned by the greediness, exploitation, and frenzied pace they experience in the corporate world. In an attempt to keep themselves entertained, Andy, Clair, and Dag tell each other stories ranging from the fantastic to the tragic. In addition to describing his characters' lives, Coupland also incorporates into Generation X numerous sayings and definitions which are printed along the margin of each page. For example, he coins such phrases as "Eroticize Intelligence" and "Re-Invent the Middle Class," and defines "Lessness" as "a philosophy whereby one reconciles oneself to diminishing expectations." While Generation X centers on "twenty-somethings," Shampoo Planet focuses on the teenagers of the 1990s, or, according to Coupland, "The Global Teens." The protagonist of the story, Tyler Johnson, is torn between his desire to become part of affluent, corporate life and what he sees as his personal responsibili-ty to save the environment and make the world a better place in which to live. In his short story collection, Life after God, Coupland shifts his attention back to the "twenty-somethings" to address religious and spiritual concerns. In the epigraph to this work, Coupland writes, "You are the first generation to be raised without religion," and the stories in the collection often portray characters filled with hopelessness, despair, and lack of faith. The story "1,000 Years (Life after God)," for example, centers on a man who decides to stop taking the medication prescribed for his depression. While not necessarily religious, the man ultimately realizes: "I need God to help me give, because I no longer seem capable of giving … to help me to love, as I seem beyond being able to love." Coupland also addresses such issues as divorce, nuclear annihilation, and the pain of romantic love in this volume.
Critical reaction to Coupland's work has been mixed. Some critics have faulted what they consider his weak plots and characterizations, while others have lauded his portrayals of North American youth and his original dialogue and imagery. Despite the success of Generation X, some commentators have suggested that Shampoo Planet and Life after God are more thematically advanced works. For example, Victor Dwyer has said that Shampoo Planet "shows a maturing writer artfully evoking the hopes and dreams of a generation that has good reason to have little of either," and Will Blythe has called Life after God "Coupland's most accomplished fiction to date."