Sunday, March 16, 2008

Life After God

Life After God, by Douglas Coupland
$11.20 at
ISBN: 0671874349
As it turns out, Life After God has been one of the most influential books of my life. It's a collection of short stories concerning modern alienation and the compromises we make when becoming adults.
Generation X is the subject of most of Coupland's work (in fact, he created that term). Those born between 1961 and 1981, whom he describes as "the first generation raised without religion", in a time when nuclear paranoia came to the fore, religion and the humanities were brushed aside in favor of science and technology, and the number of divorced parents rose above 50%.
For the first few decades of our lives, we were labeled as slackers who didn't care about anything but shopping, fashion, and crappy MTV music. Now that we've become adults, we try to find our way amidst collapsing social structures, disenfranchisement, and ennui.
The stories in this collection are told by anonymous narrators. In some of them, we don't even know if the main character is male or female. Each page features a small, crudely drawn picture representing a memory associated with the story on that page (see below). That's all memory is: a series of snapshots, the true story-making 
events of our lives.
So what are the stories about? A thirty-something man who gets stranded in the desert while delivering a case full of illegal steroids. A father in a failed marriage, remembering his honeymoon and trying to figure out where everything went wrong. 
There's a whole collection in which people recall their last moments of life before a nuclear holocaust.
These stories are usually very sad, and often take a dark turn partway through. Nonetheless, Coupland has an uncanny knack for finishing with a hint of optimism and hope for the future. He reminds us that, although there are billions of people on earth, there are some things 
we all have in common.
It's a very short book, and the pictures on every page make it even shorter. The lack of plot makes it difficult to describe, but it's still an overwhelming worthwhile read.
Since it focuses on one's lost youth, it's often a bit of a downer. Still, it's a very beautiful sadness. I first came across Life After God in my early 20s, and now in my mid 30s found a lot in it I hadn't noticed before. Even as we compromise away our dreams, and lose pieces of ourselves which can never be regained, it's a comfort to know that we're at least not doing it alone.


headbang8 said...

Coupland is a favourite, but I'd bnever read this volume. Many thanks for the tip.

Did the godlessness of Generation X occur because they were raised without religion, or because religion began to seem less relevant to those who are unhinged from a social network of which it was a part?

Hansisgreat said...

More the first than the second. I suppose it's a variety of things: GenX is cynical and jaded.

Nice to meet another fan of Douglas Coupland. Several of his other books were quite good. Microserfs was especially outstanding, but I'm afraid it may be too timely to recommend at Hansisgreat. It's mostly about computers and was written 13 years ago.

Life After God was the best, in my opinion.