Generation A, Douglas Coupland’s 11th novel, is a great bookend to Generation X, the novel that launched his career. The term “Generation A” was in fact coined by Kurt Vonnegut, but Coupland embraces it and makes it his own.
The narrative is written from alternating first-person points of view, a tactic that harkens back to Generation X. The story takes place at a time in the near future when honeybees have become extinct. Five people (referred to in the novel as the “Wonka children”) are mysteriously stung. At the heart of the mystery is the controversial drug Solon, which allows its users to suppress anxiety by living exclusively in the present. Like detective fiction, the book uncovers the connections between the Wonka children and this dangerous drug, but it also plays with narrative conventions by illustrating the ways that people tell stories in our increasingly digital, ultra-high-speed world.
If Generation X gave us “tales for an accelerated culture,” then Generation A is its natural extension, offering tales for the information overloaded. The bite-sized chapters and witty tone will appeal to those with perpetual attention defi cits, and bits of pop culture sprinkled liberally throughout will attract readers highly attuned to the current zeitgeist. Coupland clearly understands the minds of the current generation – young people who have never known a time without the Internet – and plays on their desire to jump continually from one subject to the next.
To what end does this cultural ADD affect our lives and the ways we communicate with others? How can we silence the sounds of data that are constantly streaming into our heads? Are deeper human connections becoming more possible thanks to the Internet, or does the lack of face-time increase our alienation? Coupland explores these questions without resorting to obvious, cynical answers. He even manages to offer a hopeful ending, despite the odds.