Douglas Coupland made his biggest mark on literature with "Generation X," a witty satire on the jaded "Gen-Xers." This time, we have one instead of several, but Coupland's writing might be even tighter because of that. Witty, unpredictable and full of Coupland's little flickers of bitterness and sweetness.
Things start to go awry when ex-hippie Jasmice wakes up with "divorce" written on her forehead. Ambitious twenty-year-old Tyler is a living anti-hippie, devoted to hair-care, sleek technology and big corporations. He considers Jasmine the living figure of sixties idiocy, but he consoles his mother about her rotten husband's departure.
As he comforts Jasmine, he contemplates his own life, his sweet girlfriend Anna Louise, and his oddball family, which was based in a weird hippie commune when he was little. Things in Tyler's life are disrupted when the haughty Stephanie, a summer fling, comes to visit -- and stay. Tyler travels with his fling-turned-new-girlfriend to California, but finds himself more alone than he has ever been before.
In this book, Coupland takes a look at a small group of people -- young, intelligent college graduates who aren't sure whether to follow their dreams, or chain themselves to a big corporation. Don't worry -- it's not half as boring as it sounds. Coupland keeps the book vibrant with snotty Europeans, scraggly ex-hippies and the offspring they drive crazy.
Theme aside, Coupland has a way of tugging at the heartstrings, without becoming really sentimental, and reminds us that "the time you feel lonely is the time you most need to be by yourself." His writing is sharp, solid and strangely evocative of a split world: half sand candles and flowers, half leather furniture and big-screen TVs. And he has a unique sense of humor -- he doesn't make readers really laugh, but just exposes the absurd side of things.
Tyler starts off superficial and rather snotty, and he spends much of the book doing the wrong thing. But Coupland makes him grow up slowly, making him see the worth of people he thought were freakish before. Not to mention his long-suffering girlfriend Anna Louise, who is obviously The Girl for Tyler. Jasmine is a very real portrait of an aging hippie -- full of life and sweetness, yet incredibly naive.
Douglas Coupland's "Shampoo Planet" tackles some of the same turf as "Generation X," yet it gets more intimate and sweet than his first novel did. Remember -- what's on top of your head does not say what's inside your head.