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All the lonely people: artist and Generation X novelist Douglas Coupland talks about disaster movies, Google, and his new book, Eleanor Rigby. Oh, and he comes out.

When your first novel defines an entire generation, it's tricky, to say the least, to create a follow-up. But in the decade-plus since Canadian author Douglas Coupland nailed postboomer angst in his landmark 1991 novel, Generation X, he has become one of the generation's wittiest chroniclers of characters searching for meaning and fulfillment, often against the backdrop of catastrophes ranging from a school shooting (Hey Nostradamus!) to a possible apocalypse (Girlfriend in a Coma).

In January, Coupland's Eleanor Rigby (Blooms shelves, telling the story of cubicle dweller Liz Dunn, a woman so isolated that her e-mail name comes from the titular Beatles tune. She decides to abandon her aggressively lonely life in 1997--as the Hale-Bopp comet streaks across the sky--and soon finds herself dealing with long-absent family members, mattress salesmen, and the Austrian police.

In a phone conversation from his home in Vancouver, Canada, the multimedia artist--Coupland's work also includes furniture design, sculpture, and theater--discusses the new book and, for the first time in print, talks about being gay.

There's a recurring theme in your books: People's lives change in conjunction with some grand cosmic event, whether it's a comet or a rocket launch (All Families Are Psychotic) or what may or may not be the end of the world or a plane crash (Miss Wyoming). Do you think it takes that kind of big jarring thing to happen for people to shake their lives up?

I was raised in the suburbs and still live there. Part of the psychic deal you make when you live in suburbia is that you deny that death exists. You live in a sort of denial world, and it takes a school shooting or something like that to puncture it. It takes incredibly average people and thrusts them into extreme situations.

Were you a disaster movie lover as a kid?

Oh, God, yeah. I remember we'd cut school; I went with David Land to see The Poseidon Adventure at the Orpheum Theatre downtown on a Thursday. Remember that kid, Eric something? I really identified with him.

Eric Shea. He was great.

What's he up to these days?

He's kind of disappeared. His brother--Christopher, I think--was the voice of Linus in A Charlie Brown Christmas.

I just started playing the piano again. I'm trying to learn "Linus and Lucy" by Vince Guaraldi. As a result, my fingers feel like an 80-year-old's. Where the tendons join the tip of your fingers is painful. I'm sort of savoring it; it's like I'm waking up my body.

I'm surprised, because playing piano helped me learn to type. I'd have thought you'd already built up keyboard strength.

Oh, no, no, no. I took metalwork instead of typing in grade 10, and I've suffered from it ever since so that I type with two fingers--really quickly, but I have to look down at the keyboard every 10th letter. I still can't think and work at the keyboard, so I still write longhand.

Really, you write novels longhand? I think a lot of your readers think of you as the guy with the latest cool electronic thing out of Japan.

I know so many people that come back from Tokyo with the latest thing, but I still basically ... if I really want to remember something, I use a Sharpie on my right hand. That's as high-tech as it gets. I don't have a cell phone. I think cell phones are the final leash. And I've only got one e-mall address.

I don't know if you've noticed this yet, but if you go to Google and search for the phrase that the Austrian police officer in Eleanor Rigby tells Liz to look up, three bloggers have already used it to get fans of your writing to go to their pages.

[Laughs] Oh, God, I'm so fucking sick of Google. It's never going to be un-Googled, is it? It's here forever.

Do you ever Google yourself to see what people are saying?

Oh, no--God, no. I'm not able to read about myself. If I'm on TV or something, I'll run out of the room or change the channel. You know what it's like? Imagine you have a really good dinner party, and then everyone drove home, and you had a little monitoring device, and you could hear what people were saying in the car driving home. Wouldn't that just scare the shit out of you?

All right, I never know the smooth way to ask this question, but because this is The Advocate, it's the question I have to ask. Doug, are you gay?

Well, only if you'll be my date at the Tonys.

It's a date.

[Laughs] There was a funny ... do you ever watch Will & Grace? The minstrel show?

Occasionally.

Karen says to Jack, "You're gayer than a clutch purse at the Tonys." [Laughs] I thought that was one of the best lines. How come the The Advocate has never called up before?

Well, frankly, it's because you've never gone there in interviews before. But I heard you had a new book coming out, and I thought, Damn it, I want to ask.

Well, there you go.

Obviously, politically right now, gay and Canadian is about as exciting as it gets.

[Laughs heartily] I never thought of it that way, but I suppose.

I think that what the United States used to represent to people in Europe as a land of opportunity and freedom, Canada is becoming to a lot of Americans, whether it's gay marriage or health care.

That's nice to hear. Canada's economy is only the size of that of Texas. And it looks big on a map, but you have to look at it relatively. I'm glad we have all the freedom we have here, but we're a very small country that way. Uh...I don't know what to say here. Please come visit. We're metric.

Are you contemplating marrying anyone in the near future?

Oh, no, I ... marrying? Good God, no. [Pause] You go into this and you get all these e-malls. I don't like to get political that way. I don't know anyone who is getting married. God makes you different in some way; why would you want to ape the conventions of people who are different from you? If you want to make some kind of legal document to bind you together, that's great. But it doesn't seem to be an issue that ... well, you're The Advocate magazine. Is it a big issue there?

It's very big here, but I think not all gay people feel the same way about it. For some, it's really bourgeois and "Oh, why are we aping heterosexuals?" And for others, it's "I have these two children and a house that my partner and I want to make sure don't get taken away from us."

That's important, then. That should be the focus, I think.

So John Waters said that even if he cured cancer, the first line of his obituary will always be that he made Divine eat a dog turd in Pink Flamingos. Do you feel like you're going to be branded the Generation X guy forever?

I don't mind. It's part of my history; it's part of my life. I don't mind at all. It's like an icon on your desktop that makes it easier to click onto or something. It doesn't bug me.

Read about Coupland's disastrous European book tour, his stint in medical school, and why he's chewing up his books for art in interview outtakes available only at www.advocate.com.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:books
Author:Duralde, Alonso
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Article Type:Interview
Date:Feb 1, 2005
Words:1257
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