Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Generation A

We read Generation A for book club. It's the latest by Douglas Coupland.

It's about these people that get stung by a bee, and it takes place in the not-so-distant future where bees are thought to be extinct. After these five folks get stung, they get quickly gathered up by scientists and taken in for observation and to find out if there's something special about them that attracts bees.

There are five main characters and some of them are kind of interesting - a young man from Sri Lanka who works at a call center for Abercrombie & Fitch and has an idealized view of Americans (in stylish, cotton clothing) mostly named "Craig". A young woman with Tourette's Syndrome. A corn farmer/pornographer. The others kind of merged into one person for me - but others in book club said they found them all quite distinct.
In Sri Lanka, a dog in a doghouse owned more than I did. Could I ever be a Craig? No. A person was born into Craigdom, with its multiple ski holidays, complex orthodontia, proper nutrition and casual, healthy view of recreational sex.

Without giving too much of the plot away, they all do have something in common, and ultimately what emerges (I don't think this will ruin it for you) is how, despite living in the digital age and all it's presumed alienation, we're (some of us) nevertheless more in touch with each other than we ever were before.

Coupland's book was a little disappointing only because I think he skirts closely to some rather profound thoughts, but doesn't commit to them. I wish his book had been a lot more challenging. Instead he seems to opt for a more pop sensibility which certainly lends an equanimous readability to the work, but it's also a kind of cop-out to the audience.

One bit I loved, however, was how Coupland played a little bit with language and text - check this out - can you read it?
Wondering where that title came from? Coupland is partly responsible for the popularity of the term "Generation X", as you may know. But Gen A is slightly different, and, if you ask me, this book will most assuredly not carry the same caché and come to define a generation as X did. It comes from Kurt Vonnegut:
"Now you young twerps want a new name for your generation? Probably not, you just want jobs, right? Well, the media do us all such tremendous favors when they call you Generation X, right? Two clicks from the very end of the alphabet. I hereby declare you Generation A, as much at the beginning of a series of astonishing triumphs and failures as Adam and Eve were so long ago."

Thursday, February 11, 2010


So, I just finished this book by Douglas Coupland (Generation A) that I'll write about in a few days. After I finished it, I thought, gee, Coupland's kind of like Augusten Burroughs or Chuck Palahniuk although maybe not as creative and not as frantic. As if to prove it to myself, I picked up Snuff by Palahniuk.

A few years ago a friend said they saw Palahniuk read and said more than one person fainted at the reading because it was so shocking. Can you imagine, getting the vapors in this day and age? Anyway, this book is kind of like that - like, if you're reading it in a public place, you might find yourself holding the book half-closed so no one peeks over your shoulder and says OHMYGODWHATAREYOUREADING?

It's about a group of people who are waiting for their scene in a 600 person porn film gang bang to take place. And it's crazy-graphic and not for the faint of heart. I think what makes the book rather fascinating is that Palahniuk intersperses a healthy dose of thoughtful examination into the creation and participation of porn, and also into the extremes of ... shall we say... acting. Because, if you consider, for example, that the creation of a porn movie is not unlike the creation of any movie that requires the actor to go to some extreme lengths to portray his or her character, then you could conclude that porn actors and actresses simply go quite a far way for their craft. Palahniuk cites a number of examples of mainstream actors who go to such extreme lengths, a well-known example being the actor who played the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz who suffered quite a bit from the metallic paint his character required.

By chance, a certain husband rented a movie, a very famous and influential 1976 Franco-Japanese film (from Netflix, fyi) called The Realm of the Senses which was pretty much straight-up porn, although fairly gorgeous, art-house porn full of all the things you hope to find in mainstream movies and have no expectations for at all in porn - like good lighting and characterization and beautiful sets and a nice storyline. There's also excellent, highly intellectual socio- and cultural analyses in the blu-ray commentary by scholar Tony Rayns who explains that the actors were actually mainstream actors who happened to go to extreme lengths (all the way) (get it?) for their roles.

I think Palahniuk is a very smart, very clever writer who's extremely compelling and really exciting to read. If you're a Palahniuk fan, you'll probably enjoy this book, but I otherwise wouldn't recommend it unless you consider yourself to be Outrageously Open-minded or really like porn titles like, you know, The Wizard of Ass, of which it is chock-a-block.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Wuthering Heights

So, I read Wuthering Heights when I was a kid - I was a real Brontë-head back in middle school/high school and read Jane Eyre a perhaps excessive number of times. I read Wuthering Heights once or twice but I have a terrible memory and really couldn't remember a thing about it.

EXCEPT, I had this vague recollection that Heathcliff was a romantic, if broody, somewhat recalcitrant character. So, it was with no small amount of excitement that I began reading Wuthering Heights again, as if for the first time. And, it was very amusing and clever and mysterious and dark. I kept wondering, when does the romance start?

I'll remind you how the story goes in case your memory is as bad as mine: the year: 1801. Mr Lockwood rents a house from Heathcliff, who lives in the house next door, Wuthering Heights. Heathcliff is extremely rude company and lives with this weird gaggle of unhappy people. Upon spending the night at Wuthering Heights, Lockwood hears nothing less than a ghost outside his window, Catherine, who tries to grab him through the window and he cuts her and blood gets all over the place and everything. Lockwood freaks out, Heathcliff calls out to Catherine, "Come back to me!" or something and Lockwood splits.

Back at his rental, he gets the whole story from his maid how Catherine grew up in Wuthering Heights with her brother, and one day her dad brought home this "gypsy", and they named him Heathcliff. Catherine and Heathcliff were bosom pals, and probably would have gotten married one day, except for some reason Catherine married her cousin who lived in the rental. Only back then it wasn't a rental. Heathcliff doesn't take that well, and basically enlists on a long campaign of revenge that destroys everything everyone ever loved or knew. Among the terrible things he does is beat the hell out of people, practice child abuse, kidnap, force two women into unwanted marriages so that he'll control their property, kills at least one person, and also hangs a dog.

Why I had the impression that the story was romantic, I'll never know. It's really quite disturbing that it has that reputation. But, I did think that Emily Brontë, like Jane Austen, makes a powerful social commentary on the detriment of England's property laws as effected women. Women could own or inherit nothing, so they were under extreme pressure to marry well (as we see in Austin) and completely at the mercy of either husband or father (as we see in E. Brontë). Heathcliff first hoodwinks Catherine's sister in-law into marrying him and she is completely without power to divorce while he takes over her property, and later, he forces Catherine's own child (also named Catherine) to marry his child (in order to gain more property.) She also is unable to divorce.

I think Brontë wove a very clever Gothic ghost tail, and, for the most part, I couldn't put it down. During a dull bit in the middle, I tried to imagine myself reading it in the mid-nineteenth century with no tv! No Internet! No Sudoku, even! Probably if I was sitting around, reading Wuthering Heights out loud with my husband every night, I would have been pretty enthralled. And, we would have gone to bed feeling pretty smug about our relationship.

Of course, we always do that. We're no Heathcliff and Catherine.