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Generation A

by Douglas Coupland

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Generation A by Douglas Coupland
© Simon & Schuster
Simon & Schuster, November 2009

In Generation A, Douglas Coupland (Generation X, Microserfs, Jpod) envisions a near future in which bees have been extinct for years and the earth has, as a result, undergone a pollination crisis, in which various plant and animal species have died out. The novel opens with what is then an extraordinary occurance: five seemingly random individuals - in Iowa, Ontario, Paris, New Zealand, and Sri Lanka - are each stung by a bee. These five, these so-called "Wonka children," who are hurriedly rounded up by men in white hazmat suits and whisked away to clinically nondescript rooms to undergo testing, are an interestingly diverse bunch:

Zack is an Iowa farm boy who, at the time of the sting, is naked in the cab of his corn-harvesting combine, creating huge, lewd crop circles in the fields he inherited from his meth addict father.

Samantha is a young New Zealander who has just received a call from her parents in which they reveal to her their utter lack of belief in anything. She is stung while creating an Earth sandwich with a woman in Spain.

Julien is a Parisian and a student at the Sorbonne, though he hasn't attended classes for weeks. He spends his time playing World of Warcraft in a gaming arcade.
Diana is a Canadian dental hygenist and a Sunday school teacher with hots for her married pastor. Her bee sting comes at a critical juncture of excommunication and animal rescue.

Harj is a Sri Lankan tsunami survivor and a call center operator for Abercrombie and Fitch. He is also the creator of a prank commerce web site from which users can download "celebrity room tones," hour-long silences recorded from the rooms of such personas as Mick Jaggar, Garth Brooks, and Cameron Diaz.

Generation A is purportedly a sequel to Coupland's 1991 debut, Generation X, but the resemblance is limited only to its structural reliance upon story-telling by the novel's principals. The second half of Generation A finds the five bee-stung characters sequestered on a remote Canadian island where they tell each other stories, tales with titles like "Beef Rock" and "The Preacher and His Mistress Slut," the telling of which supposedly advance the group (and the reader) to insights regarding the nature of their plight and that of humanity.

As usual, Coupland serves up a provocative premise and a colorful cast of characters, the combination of which makes Generation A rife with possibilities. It's in the follow-through however that this novel disappoints. The author's reliance upon stories of his characters' invention has the unfortunate effect of fracturing his own plotline, and gives the impression that, having lost his own narrative thread, Coupland is looking desperately towards his creations to find it for him.
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