When twentysomethings come of age

November 26, 1992|By John Tanasychuk | John Tanasychuk,Knight-Ridder News Service

Douglas Coupland must be getting tired of being called the one true social chronicler for a generation.

But in "Shampoo Planet," the author of "Generation X" does it again. He writes hilariously about a people who speak Telethon-ese.

"Tyler, you're fabulous. Truly fabulous. Stop being so fabulous."

He writes about people who sate their "tabloid needs," about "cocktail enthusiasts" and about people who measure time not in minutes but in "five or six songs."

These are the twentysomethings Mr. Coupland wrote so

eloquently of in "Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture." In that book, we met Andy, Claire and Dag, members of what many call the MTV generation, weaned on the "Brady Bunch," residual disco and Ronald Reagan's false vision of America.

In "Shampoo Planet," Mr. Coupland introduces an older generation, parents of the twentysomethings. And when the young and the old collide, the real insight into the younger generation begins.

They are, writes Mr. Coupland, always on "hippy parent alert." They whisk away knives turned black from hot-knifing hash. They hope their friends don't notice mom's hairy armpits, the same mom who astonishes them by remembering when people didn't use hair conditioner.

"Shampoo Planet" is six months in the life of a shampoo collecting 20-year-old named Tyler Johnson and how he deals with circumstances that force him to come to terms with his neo-hippy ideals and his capitalist ambitions.

Born in a commune and now studying hotel-motel management at the local community college, Tyler has just returned home from a romantic fling during his first trip to Europe.

Waiting for him in Lancaster, Wash., are his overweight girlfriend, Anna-Louise; his mother Jasmine; sister Daisy and brother Mark. Life is about as far from Paris as pumpernickel is from a baguette.

Suddenly, Stephanie, the Paris fling, arrives in town and the combination farce/high drama begins.

Along the way we meet Harmony, a rich computer head who speaks in a medieval drawl. We learn more about Daisy, who thinks people who don't have telephones must be communists. We get to listen to the kind of ironic dialogue that makes Mr. Coupland's books.

"You are my trailer park."

"And you, Anna-Louise, are my tornado."

Unlike "Generation X," in which the narrative didn't always keep up with Mr. Coupland's witty observations, "Shampoo Planet" is more than self-consciously clever. It's a solid, structured coming-of-age tale.

Mr. Coupland still provides the representative post baby boomers with names such as Davidson, Skye and Pony. They still talk about television and computer technology, shopping malls and recycling. But Mr. Coupland provides broader characters in this book and a touching, optimistic story about the possibility for change.

Not that change will necessarily be fun.

As Jasmine warns Tyler: "You just wait, young man. Around thirty you'll start losing interest in meeting new people. Just mark my word. The thought of creating a new history with a new person will seem so exhausting you simply won't want to be bothered. You'll become too lazy to invent new memories. You'll rather hang around people you don't like simply because you already know them. No surprises."

BOOK REVIEW

Title: 'Shampoo Planet

Author: Douglas Coupland

Publisher: Pocket Books

Length, price: 299 pages, $20

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