this week's review
JANUARY 25, 1999

A small percentage
of each purchase
you make at via my recommendations
helps keep the
Picture of the Day alive.

Order on Monday,
get it in time
for the weekend.

Life After God by Douglas Coupland
with illustrations by the author

God is not the answer.

And neither is this book. Instead of offering answers, Life After God contents itself with voicing fears most of us are happy to ignore in a prose that is as economical yet evocative as the simple line drawings which head each very short chapter. The text and pictures exist in separate but equal worlds, like people, but, like people, they benefit from the presence of one another.

In a series of more or less related first-person narratives, we witness harrowing remembrances of victims' final moments after the Bomb hits, bittersweet recollections of love that faded like paint, and disturbing descriptions of consciousness blunted by prescription medicine --all part of a litany of worries and tribulations with which Coupland's too-hip-for-their-own-health characters struggle to cope without the benefit of faith. (The "God" of the title signifies the missing palliative for human sorrow and might be replaced by "Meaning," "Community," or "College," depending on the experience and needs of the reader.)
It's strange that a book about spiritual destitution at the end of the millenium should be such a pleasure to read. It's the same pleasure one derives from picking scabs, touching what shouldn't be touched. It hurts a bit but also feels pretty good. Oddly, despite their morbid acuity, the tales do not unsettle so much as they reassure, giving shape to the nebulous fears we keep submerged--the scabs we do our best to ignore.

As in Tales from Generation X, it is the telling which redeems, which offers hope: "These hands--the hands that care, the hands that mold; the hands that touch the lips, the lips that speak the words--the words that tell us we are whole." These too are the hands which pick scabs, the hands that tug at old wounds to, in Nathanael West's words, hurt the pain. But once peeled away the scabs reveal smooth new skin underneath and the promise of regeneration.

Despite nuclear paranoia, despite the dissolution of families, despite the disruption of communities, despite the death of God (with a capital G, no less!), despite the absence of meaningful work, it is our human ability to share experience in words which bridges the abysses between us and fills the voids within, which is why this book offers temporary solace to anyone who thinks they're alone in fearing the world is on its last legs.

fiction | non-fiction | art | comix | poetry
© 1999 robert zverina