The first new work of fiction since 2013 from one of Canada's most successful, idiosyncratic and world-defining writers, Douglas Coupland. He's called it Binge because it's impossible to read just one.
Imagine feeling 100% alive every moment of every minute of the day! Maybe that's how animals live. Or trees, even. I sometimes stare at the plastic bag tree visible from my apartment window and marvel that both it and I are equally alive and that there's no sliding scale of life. You're either alive, or you're not. Or you're dead or you're not.
Thirty years after Douglas Coupland broke the fiction mould and defined a generation with Generation X, he is back with Binge, 60 stories laced with his observational profundity about the way we live and his existential worry about how we should be living: the very things that have made him such an influential and bestselling writer. Not to mention that he can also be really funny.
Here the narrators vary from story to story as Doug catches what he calls "the voice of the people," inspired by the way we write about ourselves and our experiences in online forums. The characters, of course, are Doug's own: crackpots, cranks and sweetie-pies, dad dancers and perpetrators of carbecues. People in the grip of unconscionable urges; lonely people; dying people; silly people. If you love Doug's fiction, this collection is like rain on the desert.
About the author
Douglas Coupland was born on a Canadian NATO base in Germany and raised in Vancouver, where he still resides. Among his best-selling novels are Generation X, Shampoo Planet, Polaroids From The Dead, Microserfs, Miss Wyoming, Hey Nostradamus! and Eleanor Rigby, altogether in print in some 40 countries. Coupland also exhibits his sculpture in galleries around the world, indulging in design experiments that include everything from launching collections of furniture to futurological consulting for Stephen Spielberg.
Excerpt: Binge: 60 stories to make your brain feel different (by (author) Douglas Coupland)
I really don’t know why I’m alive. I mean that in a general sense that has nothing to do with self-pity or fishing for sympathy. I’m just being practical. I’m past child-bearing age. I have little family and no friends, just a few acquaintances. I work a disposable job at a chain restaurant. I contribute zilch to society. I could evaporate tomorrow and not a ripple would pass through the world. I have a bit of money saved for retirement, but retirement from what? Nothingness?
I guess my aging body will eventually generate more revenue for hospitals and the medical system. It’s the dirty little truth about the system: healthy people are bad for capitalism. Fat, sick, broken people are the engine of our economy.
I find it ironic that, in spite of my generalized uselessness, if you killed me, you’d still be sent to jail for murder. I sometimes wonder if serial killers are disappointed with themselves when they kill a nobody like me. All the notoriety they’d gain from me would be as a tidbit for a boring podcast a few years down the road. They wouldn’t even name me. They’d just say, “Victim Number Three was a fifty-two-year-old single woman,” and leave it at that.
I used to date, but I never found The One. I’m not even sure how many The Ones there are out there, but by the time I figured out there was never going to be a The One for me, I was set in my ways and the thought of making do with someone merely passable was intolerable. Sure, I’ve watched my share of romcoms where the heroine ends up with someone implausibly out of her league, and there’s a part of me that still thinks, Maybe one day . . . But then my realistic inner voice reminds me that at my age The One would probably drain my bank account and give me syphilis.
In spite of everything I’ve just said, I find myself not wanting to be dead. Talk about the most awkwardly couched expression of the will to live ever uttered, but no, I still choose being alive over being dead.
It may be my skewed point of view, but I think there are a lot more people like me out there than there were even a decade ago. The electronic universe allows us to travel so deeply inward, hardly anyone ever looks up from their phone to make sexy eyes with a stranger on the subway.
I often think about what it means to have a personality. Hailey is a scatterbrain. Sebastian is super-serious. Anne is a Debbie Downer. Neil is the life of the party. Carrie is always oversharing. Ben won’t make eye contact. They all have traits, but are these traits perhaps medical in nature? Is the unwillingness to make eye contact a sign of being on the spectrum? Is oversharing a sign of thwarted sexual impulses? Does Debbie Downer need amphetamines? At what point does personality end and psychopathology begin?
Some years ago, I bumped into Adrian, a bank teller I used to work with. When I knew him, Adrian was a very buttoned-down kind of guy, but when I saw him midsummer on a street corner, he was wearing black-leather almost bondage-y gear. After we said hello, I asked him what he was up to and he casually said that he was a sex worker now. Okay.
And then he went slightly random. “Have you ever been hit by a car, either as a pedestrian or as a bike rider?”
I told him I hadn’t.
“Well, take my advice and if it ever happens to you, don’t stand up.”
“How do you mean?”
“I mean, I was on my bike riding home from work five years back, and some asshole in a Challenger slammed into me.”
“Oh yes. And I made a fatal mistake. I tried to be Mister Manliness, so I got up off the pavement to show that I was okay. The moment I stood up, I forfeited my chance to make any insurance claim.”
“Take my advice. After an accident, just lie there and be taken away on a stretcher.”
“Were you badly hurt?”
“Yes. I screwed up two vertebrae and I got concussed and couldn’t hang on to the bank job. I spent a year doing nothing. My personality changed too: all the things I used to care about and all the people I used to care about no longer made sense to me. I stopped hanging with my old friends and sold my guitar and kayak and made a whole new set of friends. I still have trouble sleeping, but, you know, in a way, it feels like I’ve been reincarnated inside the same body.”
Maybe what I need is to get hit by a Challenger. Maybe what I need is religion. Maybe what I need is to get laid. Maybe what I need is something, anything, to get me out of myself, even a pathology that makes me unique. I don’t want to be dead, but I don’t want to be me anymore. I’ve been doing that for fifty-two years and it’s gotten me nowhere.
I want to reincarnate inside my own body.
“The 60 pieces of micro-fiction found in [Binge]—sometimes linked, occasionally by plotline, but mainly by recurring characters—are precisely honed. . . . Hooks abound in Binge, pulling readers from one bite-sized story . . . to the next.” —Maclean’s
Other titles by Douglas Coupland
Musings on a Generation that Refuses to Go Quietly
Vancouver in the Seventies
Photos from a Decade that Changed the City
Paddle Against the Flow
Lessons on Life from Doers, Creators, and Culture-Shakers
Worst. Person. Ever.
Shopping in Jail
Ideas, Essays, and Stories for the Increasingly Real Twenty-First Century
Fred Herzog: Photographs
Polaroids from the Dead
And Other Short Stories