After such best-sellers as Generation X and Microserfs, what do you write? This is a peculiar novel — a blend of "Friends", "It's a Wonderful Life" and the Apocalypse. It contains some remarkable science-fiction and fantasy concepts, but it's not about that. It's about real life and it also contains a heavy dose of that.
A truth that we've all known long enough for it to cliché is that one understands life for the first time when faced with death. In Douglas Coupland's book, Generation X find themselves on the brink of that abyss. Things happen quickly and dramatically, like colossal special effects, and for a particular effect. People have visions of the future, or die, or fall into comas and wake up after 17 years of oblivion...
A third of the book revolves around the wakened coma victim, playing the part of the Crocodile Dundee or Woody Allen in Sleeper, visitor to the strange world of the 1990s. "Would you have believed in the emptiness of the world if you'd eased into the world slowly, buying into its principles one crumb at a time the way your friends did?" We know that the answer is meant to be: only if some author had forced us to think about it.
But the special effects don't end here as Coupland pulls out most of the stops to try to highlight and intensify the apparently humdrum questions that are in fact the vibrant alive core of human existence: What does it mean to love? What does it mean to be a family? Are enjoying ourselves and serving ourselves the true goal of the human race, or rather of each individual?
Coupland writes well and enjoyably. His characters are only as believable as people you know, and watching them alternately fritter their potential away then struggle to get their acts together will be a deja vu experience for most readers, despite the alien fantasy backdrop that picks them out with such contrast. The Christian will find much of the moral territory familiar, but seen from a frighteningly different angle. Insofar as any novelist or scientist succeeds in getting close to the heart of existence, they have gotten a bit closer to Him who is the Heart of Existence. This book is surprisingly religious and a good common-ground starting point for some re-opened negotiations between postmodern Western culture and believers. It stresses that we have a common enemy, and that our sensibilities may not be as different as was initially thought.
Conrad Gempf, June 1998
Dr Conrad Gempf teaches New Testament at London School of Theology. He is the author of Jesus Asked (Zondervan, 2003), Mealtime Habits of the Messiah (Zondervan, 2005) and Christian Life & The Bible (LST, 2006). He writes extensively for various books, journals, magazines and websites; here's his blog: Not Quite Art; Not Quite Living.
Previously published by London School of Theology. Reused here by kind permission.
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