Sunday, May 13, 2012

Microserfs (1995)

I have probably read enough Douglas Coupland by now that I should be able to make up my mind how I feel about him. In some ways it's tempting to reflect back his own tone of studied disaffection and shrug my shoulders. His novels read quickly, almost effortlessly, the narratives studded with the kinds of details and bric-a-brac of popular culture that it makes you happy to understand, but resentful not to—here a Popeye coffee mug, there some programming code, everywhere a lot of self-conscious irony and acute insight vying for supremacy. Ultimately I like Coupland most for his sweetly sentimental air, which might be the wrong reason. There's a gallantry to him that desperately wants the human race to do the right thing, honors father and mother and home, thinks there's more to a relationship than just sex, and never starts eating before everyone else has started. It's the one thing about him that always surprises me. I probably should start with Generation X, which is probably better in every way, but I lost my copy in a hotel room, and anyway, I love the first hundred pages of Microserfs so much that I'm willing to forgive the larger novel the wandering aimlessness into which it drifts afterward. It's not, I'll say it right out, particularly redeemed by all its remarkable prescience not only for the dot-com bubble but also for a good deal of the way we now live and orient ourselves towards the world, so heavily mediated by particularly our sophisticated computer devices. Technically it's not supposed to be a book about Microsoft, except those first hundred pages quite patently are. And having been at the "Lazy M" myself, in years not far beyond those depicted here, I remain impressed with how swiftly, completely, and ruthlessly he nails it. Not everyone agrees, including any number of Microsofties, but I've never seen anything else close. Coupland did work there for a brief time, that's true, and that would help. But he's also got the wit and self-awareness to see it plain, and he brings a good many illuminating insights into the strange mix of arrested adolescence and precocious aging that holds sway around there, or did. The various foibles of the kind of people (and I would have to include myself here on some level, for better or worse) who gladly slave 60-80 hours a week because they're smart and the work is easy and fun and because someone has offered them unlimited amounts of free soda pop to do it.

In case it's not at the library.

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