Wednesday, December 16, 2009

What's the buzz?

Generation A
by Douglas Coupland

I can't say I've loved every word Douglas Coupland's ever written, but by and large I enjoy his work quite a lot. His novels are observant, quirky, and very funny. So, I was looking forward to Generation A. And I enjoyed reading it, but I wanted to like it so much more than I did. I think my biggest problem is that I felt like I was reading two different books. The first half of this novel did not seem to match up with the second.

The novel is primarily told from the points of view of five individuals from five different lifestyles and countries. What bonds them is that they all share an extraordinary experience. They are each stung by a bee--at a time (roughly the year 2024) when no one's seen a bee for five or six years. They've long been assumed extinct, and the world suffers for it. Fruits and flowers are incredibly rare, and must be labor-intensively hand-pollinated. Honey is like gold. The bees are essentially the canaries in our coal mine, and the future isn't looking too bright.

This is so much an issue, that there's a new, hyper-addictive drug on the market called Solon. It keeps users in the present, instead of all that pesky worrying about the future. It also makes time pass quicker, and helps alleviate loneliness so that users can "live active and productive single lives with no fear and anxiety." So, it is in this near future that Zack from Iowa, Samantha from New Zealand, Julien from Paris, Harj from Sri Lanka, and Diana from Canada become instant worldwide celebrities--and subjects of scientific scrutiny.

And I was really engaged in this somewhat bizarre story. I was digging it! But as things moved forward, the plot veered off into left field. For reasons I won't get into, the B5 (as they are called) spend the second half of the novel telling each other quirky stories they've made up. Very little happens as a series of sometimes charming short stories are recited, and the ideas behind Coupland's satire are driven home.

Eventually there are revelations that somewhat tie the two halves of the novel together, but I found the ending to be weird and somewhat grotesque. There were definitely pleasures to be had in the reading of this novel. Coupland is just too darn good for that not to be the case, but Generation A never quite came together as a cohesive work.

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