Shampoo Planet by Douglas Coupland

A couple of years ago, RichardSleboda commented that in the US, kids develop their own personalities while in high school, whereas in Japan, they develop while in college. The separation from parents, new society, and searching for self creates an easy audience for cults. Coupland's protagonist is in community college (stuck between high school and college), where he has run to the end of his rebelling-against-parents rope. He's now stuck swinging, trying to find/define his own dreams and goals.

The way I read it, he still hasn't found himself by the end of the book, and he's just following people's expectations. While this is emotionally draining, Coupland has enough observational skill and wit to keep a book about a stoopid smart kid going.

A good counterpoint to this book is Plutarch's letter about climbing Mt. Ventoux. Plutarch keeps trying to think of how to make the climb go better (who to travel with, where to walk, etc.); he believes in Human Perfectibility. Coupland's character believes in the perfectability of appearance, but that's it; he's not thinking about how to improve his life (and the people he cares about). There are moments when his survival instinct and raw intelligence kick in (selling star rubbings, saving mom from Dan), but they don't get used past that.

If you're so smart, why aren't you happier?