the world came to an end in Douglas Coupland's last novel Girlfriend
in a Coma, it seemed such a perfect moment. The characters he
had created, who alone survived this fin de siecle were perfectly
cast. In most 'end of world' scenarios, we rely upon 'Arnie' or
'Bruce' to save us, prevent it or do something, but Coupland's characters
They watch and comment
and knock back a few brews. They are so ordinary, so stranded in the
tidal stain of their lives that their very absence of worldly ideals
or cultural aspirations marks them out as uniquely representative of
our times. In Coma they survive despite themselves and are then
given a chance to restore the Vancouver world they have lost and all
the inane values people strive for.
Now Coupland has
built his new book upon the foundations of his previous work.
Here we are in a
world of e-commerce, sex on-line, trash art, diet fads, impermanence
and perversions in the mainstream and so how do you shock or satirise
such a world? If you are Coupland you don't try, you just accept this
as the norm. It is perhaps more shocking to accept it and not want to
change it. Around 15 years ago Brett Easton Ellis shocked us with his
negative vision of the drug addled wasted young generation of Hollywood
brats in Less than Zero and Coupland himself gave us the term
'Generation X' thus labelling and packaging a generational group whose
main ambition was to start up a coffee bar and avoid boring lives. Later
his characters moved on to Shampoo Planet reversing the zeitgeist
of a prior generation who had been side-tracked by Woodstock and 'free-everything.'
This new, more cynical
generation knew the price of everything, but valued nothing -as Mr Wilde
would have attested. They were desperate to join corporate culture and
be nurtured by conglomerates such as Microsoft, believing that by getting
stock options they were somehow asserting their individuality, without
releasing that they was just new form of serfdom. Coupland caught that
wave too with his astute book, Microserfs. His Generation X'ers
took the coffee concept and franchised it, grew rich and became their
Now everyone is
into branding themselves and coming up with a killer website, but there
is an absolute vacuum at the heart of this America enthralled by extreme
consumerism and little else. Caught up in all of this are characters
who have either ridden the tide of wealth and blown most of it up their
noses or into their veins, or found that the enormous compromises necessary
to make on the road to success have debilitated them to such a degree
that they cannot tolerate this life at all.
is at once about a former teen beauty queen/teen TV soap child star
and a jaded Hollywood producer (possibly modelled on the dead producer
of Top Gun and The Rock) who has stuffed his fortune up his nose and
pushed his luck and his body as far as it can go.
Colgate, the former TV star is the only survivor of a plane crash. Both
characters have simultaneously arrived at the decision to quit their
current lives. One to use the sudden opportunity of a plane crash and
the other a near fatal hospitalisation, to walk away from the debris
of their lives and find meaning to it all.
Susan Colgate goes
missing for an entire year, giving her mother time to sue the airline
for a fortune for mislaying her body and the Producer goes awol for
just a few weeks. Both experience living out of trash bins and dumpsters,
and although Susan chooses anonyminity and pregnancy as her escape,
the Producer can't survive in the wild and is returned, changed, sick
and chastened to his former life. He is embarrassed to find himself
living on the charity of his mother unable to gain access to his trust
fund. His life appears to be over, but he is only 37 and the vision
he saw in hospital was just a rerun of a tawdry TV show.
seeks nothing but revenge on her mother who forced her into the child
beauty pageant life and seems to have cursed her with pretensions and
aspirations she cannot fulfil. To that end, on the very day her mother
has won a fortune from the insurance company for the loss of her daughter,
Susan chooses to return to the living, taking satisfaction on knowing
her mother will have to return the money.
Destiny will allow
these two people to connect in a Beverly Hills hotel, for just a brief
encounter. Walk together on a hot afternoon to raise the possibility
of passion and emotional rescue and then parts them quickly, with Susan
going missing all over again.
chapters, Coupland fills in the details of their missing months and
lives as we inch towards some kind of destination and inevitability.
Coupland celebrates trash culture but overlays it all with a mystical
magic realism that provides a sensual, ironic read. His books chronicles
the chasm in our lives and the people who find hope in the reflected
glow of 'entertainment tonight'.
The producer begins
to obsess about Susan Colgate, he needs help in finding her, believing
that she will somehow 'love' the unlovable. He discovers a video rental
clerk/screenwriter wannabe who has a shrine to Susan and more importantly,
her address. Together, these unlikely people team up to find his vision,
taking along for the ride the clerks intelligent, forceful girlfriend
who works for the Rand Corporation.
really give us any characters you can respect or even be inspired by.
In some ways his characters are always lame and confused by modern existence,
yet all of them come so complete, so weird and yet so plainly normal,
his novels should be required reading for American Studies. He is able
to give us the world of Oprah and Rosie O¹Donnell yet provide the 'irony-lite'
of David Letterman. There may be people who need to validate their lives
by spreading lies on the web about celebrities or shopping at 24 hour
supermarkets because they can and generally living absurd lives, often
pathetic lives, but Coupland's not making these people up. They are
the inheritors of the world and he has them all living in his literary
zoo, like Far Side characters, too real for comfort. One could write
songs about burned out folks yearning for love in scraps of desire.
perhaps lacks the apocalyptic vision that marked the wonderful Girlfriend
in a Coma but Miss Wyoming is comfort food enough whilst
we await the next Coupland novel.
© SAM NORTH 2000