September 10 2001 is in fact a mixture of old and new writing. Sitting on a coffin decked out in lumberjack plaid he reads from the incredibly moving letter to Kurt Cobain that featured in his 1996 Joan Didion-esque collection of essays Polaroids from the Dead: “But how exactly does it help you now, to know that you, too, as it is said, were once adored?” Later on in the evening he recites a passage from recent novel All Families are Psychotic.
The monologue is far more than just a patchwork of previously published pieces; subtitled “A Social History of the 90s” Coupland looks back over the arbitrary unit of time that was the previous decade and in doing so he inevitably revisits the threads that run through all his books from Generation X onwards: family and memory, technology and time. He takes us back to the late 80s and the genesis of his debut novel, back to Palm Springs before it was hip when the only thing to do was go to the mall and watch “Bob Hope and Doris Day fight over the last disabled parking spot,” and maybe, as the sun set over the pool, tell a story or two. Coupland claims that he was never aiming to speak for a generation, just to speak for himself, but in doing so he connected with so many people. He has an enviable way of viewing the world, of seeing beauty and deriving hope where others would struggle.
This could have been indulgent, and in places it inevitably is, but he is such a warm performer that it never feels that way for very long; in fact for the most part September 10 2001 proves to be an articulate, fascinating and frequently amusing insight into Coupland’s way of seeing. Waves of information flow over us as he talks rapidly about the way we process time, about airports, retro cocktails, Martha Stewart and the Gap.
Eventually, inevitably given his chosen title, he focuses on that historical day in New York. As the play draws to a close he wonders if we could take a tablet that took us back to the world of September 10, would we? Would we choose a world the way it was before the towers fell? Coupland concludes by addressing the way we view the future, stressing the need to question the way we live our lives, the need to begin thinking differently. It’s what he’s been saying since Girlfriend in a Coma, this is an important time to be living, the “jumping-off point towards farther reaches,” and we need to recognise that.