Thirty-one years ago today, the book Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture was published. It gave a generation their identity and their label, even though by definition they do not have an identity, label, or definition. I read it the summer of 1991 and it was like reading a diary of a group of friends and even my diary in parts. I wish I could find an audiobook version of it to suggest to everyone, but it seems to not have one.
Title: Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture
Author: Douglas Coupland
Genre: Postmodern literature, Novel
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Publication date: March 15, 1991
Media type: Print (Hardback & Paperback)
ISBN 0-312-05436-X (paperback)
Dewey Decimal: 813/.54 20
Followed by: Shampoo Planet
Generation X is a framed narrative, like Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales or The Decameron by Boccaccio. The framing story is that of three friends—Dag, Claire, and the narrator, Andy—are living together in the Coachella Valley in southern California. The tales are told by the various characters in the novel, which is arranged into three parts. Each chapter is separately titled rather than numbered, with titles such as “I Am Not a Target Market” and “Adventure Without Risk Is Disneyland”.
The novel was set circa 1990, in the then-rapidly growing and economic booming-turned-into-depressed communities of Palm Springs and the Inland Empire region. Some characters were born and raised in Los Angeles and suburban Orange County.
The first part of the novel takes place over the course of a picnic. Andrew, Dag, and Claire tell each other stories—some personal, others imagined—over the course of the day. Through these tales, the reader glimpses the characters’ motivations and personalities.
The initial group of characters is expanded in this section, which introduces stories from additional characters: Claire’s boyfriend Tobias, Claire’s friend and Dag’s love interest Elvissa, Andy’s brother Tyler, and Andy’s boss and neighbor and his wife, Mr. and Mrs. MacArthur. Each character represents a cultural type; Elvissa is constantly stuck in the past, Tobias is a “yuppie”, Tyler is a “global teen”, and the neighbours represent members of an older generation.
The frame is muted here, as the narrative draws back to reveal more of the main characters, while allowing for other characters’ stories to be heard.
In this section, the novel continues to pull back its focus, as Andy and Claire travel away from California. Again, the frame is enlarged to include additional characters. Claire travels to New York, while Andy takes a dreaded trip to visit his family in Portland. Through the characters’ personal and mental journeys, more tales are told and more of the characters’ personal stories are revealed.