Eleanor Rigby, by Douglas Coupland

I’ve mentioned before that 2 of my very favorite authors, Douglas Coupland & Haruki Murakami, have both come out with novels this month — I’m now finished with the first book and in the middle of the second, and one of the things that I’ve been thinking about is that it’s pretty tough to explain why I like these two guys and their writing so much. It’s not content — except for Coupland’s Microserfs and Murakami’s Underground, not all that much really happens in their books. They’re mostly books that pick up in the middle of relatively normal lives, have a bit of the fantastic in them, and that’s sort of it. (Murakami deals with some interesting historical issues as of late that I’ll talk about later.) I guess that with both of them, I just like how I feel when I read them, what I think about (almost always things in my own life), and really who I think I am and can be when I read them. It’s strange and difficult to describe.

This book, Eleanor Rigby, is pretty obviously about loneliness. (You might take a look at the Beatle’s lyrics for the eponymous song here.) It’s about a forty-ish woman who lives in Vancouver but has managed to live her entire life pretty much alone — and about what happens and how she changes when she suddenly has someone to be with (not romantic; different).

I think, though, that the bigger theme is one that Coupland has explored in all of his books that I know of: the search for meaning. Here’s what he wrote in one of his early (1994) books Life After God: “You are the first generation raised without religion.” Widely known as a chronicler of Generation X (and having coined the term), he makes the point that those of us who grew up in the late 60s, 70s and 80s really grew up in a much less grounded world than the North Americans of earlier eras. And he’s right, it seems to me: my generation does seem to believe in less than other generations (or even as I was brought up to believe). And it goes deeper than just the “religious” type of religion, but also extends to what I’ll call “secular religions: belief in country, family, neighborhood, work, etc. So most of Coupland’s books follow characters that have always been approximately my age as they try to connect what happened yesterday with what’s happening today with what they hope might happen tomorrow. Meaning.

His books are generally optimistic, I think, and have been getting more so over the years. While earlier they were more sardonic and flip about our “GenX” situation, now they really focus on family and friendships as central to meaning for most any life.

Anyway, I sure like his writing, and thinking these types of thoughts.

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