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Polaroids from the Dead [Paperback]

Douglas Coupland
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Book Description

4 Aug 1997
A collection of Douglas Coupland's articles and short fiction pieces. It offers Coupland's thoughts on topics such as the life and death of Kurt Cobain, and the bizarre behaviour of "Harolds" - teenagers obsessed with hanging about in cemeteries.

Product details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Flamingo; New edition edition (4 Aug 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0006548601
  • ISBN-13: 978-0006548607
  • Product Dimensions: 18.8 x 18.6 x 2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 894,617 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

From the Back Cover

Here we are, over half-way through them, but no-one seems to have a clear sense of what defines the 1990s; what are these years for, what against? Who better to consult than that anatomist of the sound-bite era, that taxonomist of moods, icons, jargon and styles, Douglas Coupland, author of 'Microserfs' and 'Generation X'. Let him explain his intention for this book:

'This book – comprised of both fiction and non-fiction – explores the world that existed in the early 1990s, back when the decade was young and had yet to locate its own texture. In 1990, society seemed to be living in a 1980s hangover and was unclear in its direction. People seemed unsure that the 1990s were even going to be capable of generating their own mood. Now I read these pieces over, and it's as though I've opened a kitchen drawer and found a Kleenex box full of already nostalgic Polaroid snapshots and postcards. I hope the photographic imagery in the book will help accentuate this feeling of riffling through evocative old missives. I find myself thinking wistfully of that place in time, say, not three years ago, when teenage bedrooms again sprouted daisy stickers and when Grunge ruled the catwalks. On another level, I think of when the imperative to become "wired" hadn't yet so much filled the world's workforce with dark dreams of low-tech paranoia and security-free obsolescence. It's been a busy half-decade.'

Like all his writing, these 'Polaroids from the Dead' are unsettlingly perceptive, resoundingly right and characteristically Coupland – snapshots from the history of the future, to be cherished here and now by the privileged few.

About the Author

Douglas Coupland first came to prominence as the author of Generation X (1995). He followed that with a sequence of ever-more daring and inventive novels, including Life After God, Girlfriend in a Coma and Hey Nostradamus! He lives in Vancouver.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars As I am alive, I am also dead... 26 Sep 2007
Without wanting to just jump into this review (but conceding that I am anyway) what I (and many other Coupland fans) love about his work is the fact that, despite not being able to remember the thread of the story barely three days after finishing any given book, you do always remember the feeling of overwhelming satisfaction on turning the last page. I have read most of Coupland's work up to this point (some of which I have reviewed here, the rest of which I intend to), yet I can't really put my finger on any real details of any of the books I have had the pleasure of reading. Whilst I could remember the unknown daughter turning up in "Girlfriend in a Coma" and a single survivor eager to lose her identity in "Ms Wyoming", I couldn't remember the names of either leading lady in the two novels (I have since cheated and looked on Amazon for one - for the other, I have beaten far!). I can remember the Columbinesque massacre and the touching scene of a mother crawling on her hands and knees on a motorway after her son in "Hey Nostradamus!" and "Eleanor Rigby" respectively, but can't remember how either story ends. Where "All Families are Psychotic", "Shampoo Planet" and "Generation X" are concerned, I can vaguely recall a woman astronaut, a shampoo-collecting sycophant and poisoned chemicals being spilled on a carpet - but very little else. As for "Microserfs", "Life After God" and "JPod", my memory has failed me altogether. "Polaroids from the Dead" is, indeed, no exception: whilst the haunting picture of Kurt Cobain will be etched on my soul for years to come, and the amusing "Harolds" will bring a smile to my face - for the foreseeable future at least - other than that, I can remember nothing of the book I have just read... and that, ironically, is what makes it brilliant. Read more ›
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3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars So postmodern you can excuse the minor flaws 15 Aug 2000
Not as good as Shampoo Planet, Generation X, or Girlfriend in a Coma, but nevertheless a very good read, and classic Coupland. Not quite a book, far from a short story and not quite a diary, the disjointed nature pf this book is perhaps its greatest strength.
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2 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Easy, entertaining read 8 Jan 1999
By A Customer
Coupland, while not quite at his best, writes an easy to read collection of short stories. Post-modernism, 1990s-ism, typical Coupland.
The book doesn't grip like Microserfs or Generation X, but split into 3 seperate sections it's a coffee table mainstay.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.8 out of 5 stars  10 reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A narrative travelogue of several Gen X subcultures. 4 Aug 1997
By A Customer - Published on
Douglas Coupland is at it again. Having probed the religious impulses of the post-boomer generation in Life After God and profiled the techie-geek subculture in Microserfs, Coupland now offers a series of short essays about the Deadheads and the lingering neo-hippie subculture of the 1990s.

However, only one-third of the book is about the Dead. The second section are snapshots of various people and places, ranging from young politicos in Washington, D.C., to musings on post-Communist East Berlin and the architectural landscape of Vancouver. The third section is devoted to a socio-philosophical analysis of the Brentwood community and its residents from Marilyn Monroe to O. J. Simpson. Here he provides his keenest observations on the poverty of wealth and celebrity, something like a Gen X version of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.

While introducing several interesting themes regarding the nature of identity in what he calls a culture of "denarration," the reader senses that Coupland's latest outing is merely a hodgepodge of his random thoughts and observations. This book lacks the thematic coherence of his earlier works, primarily because this is a collection of articles and essays rather than a novel. The quality of his material varies widely from chapter to chapter, as if illustrating his own struggle to portray life as a narrative. This book, like life in general, has its good and bad days. Worth reading, but not Coupland at his best.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Take a picture 22 Feb 2004
By E. A Solinas - Published on
Skeleton fairy tales. Deadheads. Youths who hang around cemetaries. Marilyn Monroe. Fires. All these crop up in Douglas Coupland's atmospheric collection of essays and short stories, "Polaroids From the Dead," topped by the picture of a curiously blank-faced Sharon Tate.
Coupland populates "Polaroids" with people who contemplate the past, and how it fringes on the present: mothers telling their children parables, an older woman revelling in a Dead concert, a younger group observing aging hippies. And he himself is in quite a bit of it. There are essays on Brentwood (the site of Marilyn Monroe's mysterious death), a trip to Germany post-Berlin Wall, a letter to late rocker Kurt Cobain, descriptions of Palo Alto, and musings on the human preoccupations with crime, celebrities, fame, aging, death, and dead celebrities.
"Polaroids From The Dead" seems like an apt title for this book. Each short story isn't really a story. There's no true beginning and no end. It's just a snippet that shows the outlook and some of the life of the people in it, and their thoughts. While this type of writing is very vivid while you're actually reading it, it makes the characters difficult to remember later. Likewise, the essays show one of the facets of Coupland's outlook. It's pensive, a little sad at times, and at other times just provokes your thoughts and makes you wonder.
Likewise, the black-and-white photographs sprinkled through the book are curiously intimate; some of them (like a burning stick of dynamite) don't make sense until you're partway through the story. OJ and Nicole, models of T-Rexes, the Vietnam monument, flowers and skeletons turn up in the photographs. They don't add a great deal, except perhaps to underline the words Coupland writes.
"Polaroids From The Dead" is a collection of snapshots of all kinds -- photos, experiences, and stories. Meditative, melancholy and atmospheric.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unique and thoroughly enjoyable 3 Jun 1997
By A Customer - Published on
Coupland writes several beautiful tales that give true insight to the phenomena of following the Dead.He also writes from the heart his feelings on the death of Kurt Cobain and explains his emotional and spirtual ties to his homeland of Vancouver.From Charles Manson to O.J. Simpson, this book has something for everyone.Coupland really makes every item interesting.My favorite piece, "Lions Gate Bridge" is reminescent of his best book, Life After God
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Middle of the road 17 Aug 2002
By "deadkerouac" - Published on
Lukewarm collection of stories, essays, and observations from Generation X's primary author and voice. The first part of the collection (the titular "Polaroids") consists of short vignettes involving Deadheads at a Grateful Dead concert, of which only "How Clear Is Your Vision of Heaven?" seems to be effective. In that tale, Columbia tells her young children a bedtime story (about an enchanted city beset by drought that continues on a downward spiral with the appearance of a skeleton) as they all bunk inside an Econoline van while Columbia's husband Ezekiel enjoys the concert alone.
The middle of the book is the best read. "Portraits of People and Places" is a collection of essays, letters, postcards, pictures, and rants about different places that Coupland has visited and experienced. His piece of Lions Gate Bridge is perhaps one of the best pieces I've ever read about Coupland. I loved the image he created with the trumpeter playing tunes for the gridlocked drivers/passengers while the suicide jumper teetered over the edge of the bridge. Coupland's descriptions of Palo Alto, CA, Los Alamos, NM, and Vancouver are magnificent. I've never been to these places, but Coupland effectively recreates them without much effort.
The final part is the "Brentwood Notebook," an interesting piece on suburban Brentwood, California, site of Marilyn Monroe's suicide in 1962 and the Nicole Brown Simpson-Ron Goldman murders in 1994, of which football great OJ Simpson was tried and acquitted in what has become the trial of the 20th century. Coupland goes through every detail of the suburb, from the fact that it is NOT an actual city, just a suburb, to details about nearby cemetaries and places of interests. A map would have been nice, however.
Overall, I have to give this one a three. The first part did nearly next to nothing for me. The middle was wonderful; the end was anti-climactic. The numerous photos helped, especially the cover photo of the beautiful actress Sharon Tate, who, within the book on pp. 14-15, eerily shares space with the man who had her killed, infamous murderer Charles Manson.
11 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Ummmm...Doug? Are you OK? 6 Oct 1997
By A Customer - Published on
UGH. I don't know. Maybe it was reading it aloud while driving through Southern New Mexico with my best friend at the time, the day after she left her husband. Maybe it was the stories I chose to read aloud. I'm perfectly willing to blame my own choices, partly because I do not want to believe Dearest Doug could produce such a boring piece of CBSNews Dan-I'd-Rather-Not fluff. The stories were tired, overwrought and lonesome. I truly did not want the thought to pop in my head that Doug scribbled these stories out the night before his deadline, as though it were a tiresome English paper. Nonetheless, the thought occured.

Please, read this book only if you are ABSOLUTELY FASCINATED with the grateful dead or oj simpson. NO ONE ELSE should touch it. i love dougie-pie with all my heart for his earliest work, but this was just, well, yucky.

Reading nutritional information held more entertainment value. And I only say that because I love him so much.
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