Between Mushroom Cloud and Monastery: I read “Generation X”

Between Mushroom Cloud and Monastery: I read “Generation X” May 12, 2021

and discover more than I expected:

Generation X is something stranger than a novel of social observation. It is a scrappy, almost zinelike collage of images, marginal text, and patchwork narratives, making it feel like a back issue of a magazine that never quite existed. It’s full of incisive nouvelle slang: “McJob: A low-pay, low-prestige, low-dignity, low-benefit, no-future job in the service sector. Frequently considered a satisfying career choice by people who have never held one.” Coupland provides all the expected pleasures: lostness, drifting, downward mobility, a surfeit of irony and anti-politics; and over it all the fading shadow of global thermonuclear war, which still haunts the imaginations of this last generation of Cold War kids.

But Coupland’s characters long more for sublimity than for 1950s-style industrial and familial stability. They’re haunted not just by the mushroom cloud but by the monastery. Reading Coupland’s debut novel, you’ll be reminded that seminal Gen X lit includes not just Jay McInerney’s moral tales but Donna Tartt’s 1992 divine-madness pulp masterpiece The Secret History.


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