Every once in a great while I stumble upon a book that has everything I hope for and more. I didn't expect to find that in Douglas Coupland's Microserfs--not that I have anything against the Canadian novelist, I just expected his 1996 release to be simply an enjoyable read, not something that would blow me away completely and be entered into my All Time Top 10 List forevermore. But in Microserfs, that's exactly what I found: a novel full of laughter, of tears, of brilliance and heartfelt subtlety.
Perhaps part of my love for the book comes from my desire to live the exact life that protagonist Dan and his coding co-horts are living in Redmond, Washington, just outside of Seattle on the Microsoft campus in the early 1990s. While I was reading the book, I was also waiting to hear back from a job I applied for with Nintendo of America (sadly, no dice), based also out of Redmond. As I read the book, the good-hearted jealousy poured out of me and into Dan in a vicariousness I had not felt since reading, perhaps, the very first Harry Potter book almost a decade ago. Is this why I felt so sublimely affected at the ups and downs that the characters took? Is this why I sobbed as the novel reached its apex for reasons I cannot still fully explain? Probably. But don't let that diminish the full effect, because even reading it as someone with less of a personal stake in its direction, I still could find it hard to look at as any less brilliant.
Coupland has proven to me beyond a doubt at this point, that a keen eye for pop culture and good humor can go hand-in-hand with a level of emotional humanism I only before thought possible in the hands of someone like Kurt Vonnegut or George Saunders. Usually you get one or the other--a battering ram of modernity like Chuck Klosterman (ugh) or the gentle touch of Jeffrey Eugenides. Not all of Coupland's novels are quite so finely tuned as this, but in Microserfs he has managed to make a believer out of me.
It certainly will help if you, as the reader, are something of a culture nerd yourself, with a special geekiness for computers and the baggage and shortcomings of Generation X, but even without catching all of the references Coupland makes, you will most assuredly connect with the people inside. Because they are even more real than the little things Coupland plucks from the world around him to ground the book. Knowing nothing of Silicon Valley, programming or the computing world in general, the characters that inhabit these pages are enough to make you feel their world and feel everything they are going through.