families are psychotic
Douglas Coupland ISBN 0-00-711751-5 £9.99 Flamingo 2001
D'Agneau probably agrees
||About half way through reading this new novel from
Vancouver writer Douglas Coupland I was thinking, Doug, you and
me are about to part ways. I have been with him since Gen X,
through Shampoo Planet, just about got through Life After
God, embraced his peak with Microserfs and Girlfriend
in a Coma, sort of felt Miss Wyoming was kind of fey
and although hated Polaroids from the Dead loved the simple
City of Glass. So I was thinking harsh thoughts about his latest
work when a whole series of events overtook my own life.
My niece who lives just beside Wall Street was missing, her fiance
worked in the World Trade Center Tower B, furthermore on the same day
my nephew let us know his wife had kicked him out of their brand new
house and my other nephew got back from a visit to his Ma to discover
his wife was giving him an ultimatum - give her a child or she walks.
OK my niece survived, her fiance got out just before the tower collapsed,
but then I heard about my own sisters separation. One week of
family trauma, hysteria and pain. I came back to all families
are psychotic and what a week before was improbable magic
realism set in a tawdry Florida backdrop with a classic modern North
American family in self destruct and it all seemed well... normal.
Dont ask about plot. Just know this:
Janet has AIDS, so has her son Wade who in a extremely unique way give
it to her when shot at by Ted. Janet is divorced from Ted, who is now
with Nicki, who also has AIDS because she slept with Wade (before she
knew he was related through marriage). Sara has a Phd, remarkable because
she was a thalidomide baby born minus an arm and it could have turned
out bad considering her crazy family. She works for NASA, has an abiding
obsession with science and space and is going up into space on the Shuttle.
She is the normal one. Bryan is the stupid kid, the runt of the family
who always fucks up and has knocked up Shw, the tough grrrl who hates
vowels and is either going to abort her child or sell it to the highest
bidder. Wade is with Beth, a born again ex-drug addict who believed
she was HIV positive but now isnt and now wants Wade to have very
expensive fertility treatment that will zap the HIV elements. This family
are supremely dysfunctional, a marvelous gene-splice of Americana or
Canadiana if you count that Janet was born in Toronto.
Into this unfocused mess enters Norm, a supplier of anything; plants,
animals, rare species and occasional employer of Wade. There is a deal
going down on getting Princess Dis last letter to a rich buyer
in the Bahamas, the amoral Florian who sees all and is ruthless in getting
what he wants. Only Norm has a heart attack in Disneyworld during a
power outage. Wade, Ted and Bryan will have to make the deal on their
own with the very tricky Florian.
There is no need to go into the plot. The plot is never really 'the
thing' in a Coupland novel. Creating feckless, pretty uncultured, one
step away from trailer trash characters with good hearts is his speciality
and dare I say it, weakness. He loves the tacky places that America
specialises in and yes, its almost cheating to pick on Florida,
it is such an easy target.
So I think Daytona Beach is for all those people who .... know
that the really good beaches were swiped by rich people at least a century
ago. They know this is the only beach theyre ever likely to get...and
maybe for once the margaritas will make them witty instead of shrill
Like Miss Wyoming before this, the characters are searching for truth
and happiness. They meet in the most extraordinary of coincidences and
essentially, this reads just like Miss Wyoming and instead of
something new, he wrote this the week after and just waited a year to
let it out. Furthermore, it reads a lot like Girlfriend in a Coma
yet seems to lack the wit or sustained mysticism that that millennium
All families are psychotic isnt a bad book, it isnt
a great book, it is just more of the same and maybe it is my fault for
being so familiar with his work I now demand something fresh. Every
writer is allowed to have a dip, but I have developed a rhythm to my
reading. A Coupland follows a Gibson, which follows a Murakami, which
follows a Philip Pullman. Each Murakami novel is the same, but somehow
unique. I am not sure that is happening with Coupland. I think a year
off is called for, theres a need to go write about some other
culture and then surprise us. I learn from Wired Magazine he was in
Japan and that would be an interesting book.
Perhaps this novel should have looked closer at the avaricious and rapacious
character of Florian who seeks to own the DNA of everything we value
in this world.
Like anything in life, Steve, its numbers, numbers,numbers.
Lots of fat people means lots of happy farmers, happy agro-chemical
makers, happy teamsters, happy fast-food staffs - happiness and joy
for all. Fatness ripples through the entire economy in a tsunami of
Right now this is a writer in a holding pattern and just like you get
bored of Weetabix every morning and long for something else...this is
just not wake up material.
© Marcel DAgneau 2001
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