Local Harvest

Generation A is a weird one, but then again, all of Coupland’s novels are weird to some extent or another. The novel opens on a globalized and overwhelming consumer-capitalism-driven world that looks remarkably like our current one, with a few key differences thrown in. Notably, bees are extinct — making fresh fruit and vegetables prized and rare — and most of the world’s population is addicted to a brand-new designer drug named Solon, which makes time feel as though it’s going faster and makes the taker happy to be alone.

Coupland’s five protagonists hail from a series of far-flung places: we meet Sam, in New Zealand; Julien, in France; Harj, in Sri Lanka; Zack, in America; and Diana, in Canada. At first, these characters seem to have little in common, except for two things: first, that none of them have shown any interest in Solon, and second that each character is impossibly stung by a bee.

Scientists and government agents quickly descend, whisking each of them away to research facilities where scientists attempt to draw some correlation between the five protagonists. What drew the bees to them in the first place? What is the significance of being stung?

Once these characters are released from their comfortable antiseptic prisons, the world seems different: its citizens are more addicted to Solon than ever, and the five protagonists are more dissatisfied with the elusive (and illusive) connections promised by digital media and a globalised world. Each of them slowly realises they no longer belong in their old lives, and maybe not even in the world as a whole; in search of answers, purpose, and meaning, they come together in a remote Haida Gwaii village, where they begin to grapple the mysteries of their lives. Anyone familiar with Coupland’s novels will recognise this plot arc as a quintessential Coupland format: a small group of characters recognise the poisonous nature of the world and attempt to transcend it.

But it’s at this point that the novel goes slightly off the rails: rather than directly discuss the world’s problems or their own strange and sudden status as the bees’ chosen people, the protagonists sit around and tell stories to one another. The result: nearly a third of the novel is dedicated to the faithful inclusion of every bizarre campfire tale the characters invent. Themes begin to repeat and recur: murder, celebrity, the search for meaning. This is the core of the novel’s weirdness: does this weirdly long section illuminate what Coupland is trying to say about the world, or merely serve as a dumping ground for all the figments and fragments populating the far reaches of an odd author’s brain?

And this is where the novel ends: on one hand, we have five characters telling stories on Haida Gwaii and slowly melding into an ominous, self-described hive mind, and on the other, a world of people addicted to a drug which severs community ties and makes the user happy to be cut off from everyone and everything around them. There is no real conclusion or resolution—only this overriding tension between two unlikely poles.

This is not to say that the novel isn’t entertaining, and honest, and funny—because it is. It’s just also impossible to shake the feeling that Coupland intends Generation A as a critique of the present, and yet can’t quite figure out how to go about sharpening the argument. As a result, Generation A is a great sort of beach read—not too serious, plenty of fun, and more than a little weird. It plays the role of light-hearted reading really nicely—but this is also sort of a tragedy, when you stop to consider how else Coupland might have focused the novel into something truly critical and engaging.

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