Book Review: Generation A by Douglas Coupland
|*This review is the start of something new I am trying with my friend Molly over at Lit Nerd Around the World. Each month we’ll both read the same book and post about it on the 15th. A few days later, we’ll post a response to the other’s review. We’ll see how it goes this month and change the format as needed. This month we read Generation A by Douglas Coupland. -Colin”This is one of those books that I blindly bought the day it came out (it was a signed first edition!), set it on my bookshelf and completely forgot about it until one day last month when I was looking for a new book to read and came across it again. I picked it up and started reading, not even remember what the book was suppose to be about. It turns out, Generation A is set in the near future after all the bees have mysteriously vanished. No reason; they’re just gone. Enough time has passed, and people have learned to live in a world without bees (and honey and various plants bees helped pollinate). Then suddenly, completely out of the blue, a guy in Iowa gets stung by a bee and becomes instantly famous. A short time later, four more people get stung. These are Generation A‘s main characters. Each one from a different country. Each one with a different story on how they got their bee sting and the events that followed.Generation A‘s story is told in one of my favorite styles: short chapters. Each chapter switches between one of the five bee sting victims as they tell their tale of being stung, having their local government swoop in minutes later to apprehend them and the experiments that followed while scientists tried to determine what made the bees choose them. I love books with short chapters because it feels like the plot is always advancing. There is no lull because in the next couple of pages, the perspective changes and we’re now following the girl who got stung in New Zealand. At times it can feel like your just flipping through five different TV channels in hopes of finding something good on. Since the chapters are short, it’s never long before you circle around and are back with the character you started with.After each character is released back into the world post-bee sting, new avenues of life are available to them because of their newfound fame. Zach, the corn farmer from Iowa, turns his farm into a playboy mansion complete with a handful of girls to help “pass the time”. Harj, who prior to the sting worked at the Abercrombie & Fitch call center in Sri Lanka, travels to America for the first time with his sights set on visiting the A&F headquarters in Maine. But the world each character discovers is one filled with users of Solon, a wonder drug that reduces anxiety and helps people not worry about the future.
***Just FYI, spoiler warning from here on out***
Now things get weird near the middle of the book. The five characters have finally come together and meet in an effort to understand why the bees were attracted to them. They are forced to live on a small island of the western coast of Canada, the location of the last bee hive before extinction, and are watched over by Serge, the lead scientist trying to get to the bottom of the missing bees. In order to understand why they were chosen, Serge suggests that they sit around and tell each other stories to get to the bottom of this. His theory is that there will be common themes or ideas in their stories that will lead to understanding what makes these five people special. Now i’m no scientist, but is that how science really works? I don’t think we landed a rover on Mars via telling stories. But that’s what happens. The later half of the book switches between the five characters tell each other short stories. Sure, these short stories nestled in the short chapters are entertaining, I couldn’t help but feel slightly annoyed that the second half of the book changes its narrative tone so drastically without a good reason. For a book to spend half its length establishing this mystery of the bees sudden reappearance, I kind had higher hopes for the reason than the explanation the book eventually gives. The book’s reasoning for all the experiments and the lack of bees I found to be pretty disappointing. It started out strong, but faltered near the end and ended weakly.
My issues aside, they were small enough to not tarnish my overall impression of the book. The ending does leave a sour taste in my mouth and hurts the lasting impression the book leaves, but the stories and the characters it establishes are entertaining enough for me to overlook these flaws.
By Douglas Coupland
November 10th, 2009
Two Things I Like:
1) A unique cast with five distinctive characters
2) Short Chapters
Two Things I Hated:
1) The mid-book narrative style shift
2) The reason behind it all
Why I Read It:
I really enjoyed jPod when I read it a couple years ago. Picked up this book when it first came out. Had nothing better to read at the time.
Gun to my head, would I recommend this book?