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Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture
Author Douglas Coupland
Country United States
Language English
Genre Postmodern literature, Novel
Publisher St. Martin's Press
Publication date
March 15, 1991
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback)
Pages 192 pp
ISBN 0-312-05436-X (paperback)
Followed by Shampoo Planet

Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture, published by St. Martin's Press in 1991, is the first novel by Douglas Coupland. The novel popularized the term "Generation X", which refers to Americans and Canadians who reached adulthood in the late 1980s. It is a framed narrative, in which a group of youth exchange heartfelt stories about themselves and fantastical stories of their creation. It is the acknowleged encapsulation of the zeitgeist of the generation.


Generation X is a framed narrative, like Chaucer's Canterbury Tales or The Decameron by Boccacio. The framing story is of three friends—Dag, Claire, and the narrator, Andy—living together in the Mojave Desert in California. The tales are told by the various characters in the novel. The novel is arranged in three parts. Each chapter is separately titled rather than numbered, with titles such as “I Am Not A Target Market” and “Adventure Without Risk Is Disneyland”.

Part One[edit]

The first part of the novel takes place over the course of a picnic. Andrew, Dag and Claire tell each other stories—some personal, others imagined—over the course of the day. Through these tales, the reader glimpses the characters' motivations and personalities.

Part Two[edit]

The initial group of characters is expanded in this section, which introduces stories from additional characters. We meet Claire’s boyfriend Tobias, Claire’s friend and Dag’s love interest Elvissa, Andy’s brother Tyler, and Andy’s boss and neighbour and his wife, Mr. and Mrs. MacArthur. Each character represents a cultural type. Elvissa is constantly stuck in the past, Tobias is a “yuppie”, Tyler is a “Global Teen” and the neighbours represent members of an older generation. The frame is muted here, as the narrative draws back to reveal more of the main characters, while allowing for other characters' stories to be heard.

Part Three[edit]

In this section, the novel pulls back its focus even farther, as the characters Andy and Claire travel away from California. Again, the frame is enlarged to include aditional characters. Claire travels to New York, while Andy travels to visit his family, a visit he has been dreading. In this section, we learn more about Andy’s family, and his brother Tyler. We also have insight into Claire through her telling the story of her trip to Andy. Through the characters' personal and mental journeys, we are told more tales and told more about the characters’ personal stories.


Andrew “Andy” Palmer[edit]

The book's narrator and main character. Andy is a bartender (a "McJob," as he describes it). He is close friends with Dag and Claire. He is from Portland, Oregon.

Dagmar “Dag” Bellinghausen[edit]

A former office worker, he now works with Andy at the bar, and lives next door to him. He is obsessed with the possibility of a nuclear apocalypse, and is prone to occasional erratic behavior. Unlike the other characters who are American, he is a Canadian, from Toronto, Ontario.

Claire Baxter[edit]

A friend of Andy and Dag that lives in a neighboring bungalow. She is from a large family connected by multiple divorces. She wants to live life as Andy and Dag are trying to, but struggles, partially because of her relationship with Tobias. She is from Los Angeles, California.


Claire's boyfriend, and a superficial yuppie. He finds the lifestyle of Andy, Dag, and Claire interesting, but is unable to commit to it. Neither Andy nor Dag likes him. He is a character representing a foil to the other characters in Generation X.


Claire's best friend. She is Dag’s love interest. She finds herself constantly trapped in the past, never quite catching up to the modern world.


Andy's younger brother. As the youngest child in a large family, he is somewhat spoiled, but secretly wishes he could live as Andy does. He is a Global Teen, later named by the media as Generation Y, and a large influence for the main character in Coupland’s second novel, Shampoo Planet, who shares the name and many mannerisms.


The Title[edit]

A controversial topic, Coupland’s title came from the work of Paul Fussell [1]. In his book Class, from 1983, the term "class X" designated a part of America's social hierarchy rather than a generation. As Coupland explained in a 1995 interview, "In his final chapter, Fussell named an 'X' category of people who wanted to hop off the merry-go-round of status, money, and social climbing that so often frames modern existence."

The Novel[edit]

Coupland felt that people his age were being misclassified as members of the Baby Boomer generation. He made no explicit request for a new generation to be named, but did want to set the record straight that people towards the end of what is typically classified as the baby boom begeration really had almost nothing in common with those at it's beginning and middle.

I just want to show society what people born after 1960 think about things... We're sick of stupid labels, we're sick of being marginalized in lousy jobs, and we're tired of hearing about ourselves from others

— Coupland, Boston Globe, 1991 [2]

From this experience, Coupland started work on a handbook, and ended up with a novel.

The Character's Names[edit]

The characters are named after Antarctic geographic locations.[3]

The Neologisms[edit]

The neologisms are similar to, and inspired by the work of Jenny Holzer.

History of the Novel[edit]

In 1987, Coupland wrote an article for Vancouver Magazine wherein he wrote about the lack of realization for people within his own birth cohort. A year later, he received a $22,500 forward from St. Martin’s Press to complete a handbook on the "generation" he had outlined in the article [4]. Coupland moved to the Mojave to work on the book. What was created was not a handbook, but a novel. This surprised the publishing company that had given him the forward[5]. The novel was cancelled by his Canadian publisher, but was accepted by St. Martin’s Press, and was published in March of 1991[6].

The novel was a sleeper best-seller [7]. It quickly grew in popularity after a slow start[8]. Different terms from the book such as McJob and Generation X entered the vernacular. The novel was pointed to by members of the group outlined in the book as a novel in which they were properly depicted. Coupland was soon declared spokesman for Generation X. He was also described as having a feeling for the zeitgeist of the age [9].

The Generation X fanfare continued through the publication of his second novel, Shampoo Planet. Shampoo Planet, as the follow up novel about a younger generation, was again met with fanfare, and Coupland’s identity as a spokesman was solidified. However, Coupland has constantly denied both the fact that there was a Generation X and that he was a spokesman.

This is going to sound heretical coming from me, but I don't think there is a Generation X. What I think a lot of people mistake for this thing that might be Generation X is just the acknowledgment that there exists some other group of people whatever, whoever the might be, younger than, say, Jane Fonda's baby boom.

— Coupland, CNN, 1994 [10]

Coupland was offered large sums to act as marketing consultant on the Generation X age group [11]. Coupland turned these down, and even refused an offer to do an advertisement for the Gap [12]. Generation X nonetheless became a marketing force, as the name and ideas were widely used to market products and services. For instance, Generation Next was a clothing store whose name borrowed from the novel's title. In 1995, Citroen sold a car model called "Le Generation X".

In 1994, before the publication of Microserfs, Coupland declared in Details magazine that Generation X was dead [13]. He stated that Generation X had been co-opted as a marketing term and that members of Generation X were relatively resistant to marketing ploys. It was with the publication of Microserfs that Coupland’s literary reputation began its move away from Generation X.

The novel has had lasting effect. The biting, ironic tone of the novel and its pop culture allusions helped bring about a new era of transgressional fiction, including the work of authors Irvine Welsh and Chuck Palahniuk. The term Generation X is still in use, as are many derivatives, such as the previously-mentioned Generation Y. Many critics have linked Generation X with the popularity of grunge and alternative rock. However, the novel makes no reference to grunge at all – there is little talk of any music – and the song that is widely credited for boosting grunge into mainstream popularity, Seattle-based Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit," was released after the novel’s publication.


External links[edit]


  1. ^ Gary Dexter, "History of the Name", The Sunday Telegraph, January 20, 2008
  2. ^ Mark Muro, "Baby Buster's Resent life in Boomers' Debris", The Boston Globe, November 10, 1991, City Edition
  3. ^ Susan Chenery, "Into the City of the Mind", Sydney Morning Herald, August 22, 1994
  4. ^ Steve Lohr, "No More McJobs for Mr. X", The New York Times, May 29, 1994
  5. ^ Steve Lohr, "No More McJobs for Mr. X", The New York Times, May 29, 1994
  6. ^ Leah McLaren, "Birdman of B.C.", The Globe and Mail, September 28, 2006
  7. ^ Deirdre Donahue, "Douglas Coupland, chronicling post-boomers", USA Today, Setpember 21, 1992
  8. ^ Steve Lohr, "No More McJobs for Mr. X", The New York Times, May 29, 1994
  9. ^ Brian Boyd, "Whatever Happened to the X Generations", The Irish Times, July 2, 1994
  10. ^ Heads Up, CNN, April 30, 1994
  11. ^ Tom Hodgkinson, "Age of the Cool Nerd", The Guardian, October 24, 1995
  12. ^ Naomi Klein, "Being born again is easy in senile society", The Toronto Star, June 29, 1995
  13. ^ Robert Benzie, "A One-Hit Wonder Generationally Xpired", The Toronto Sun, May 20, 1995

Category:1991 novels Category:Novels by Douglas Coupland Category:Debut novels Category:Postmodern literature