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All Families Are Psychotic [Paperback]

Douglas Coupland
2.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

7 Sep 2002
Psychosis: any form of severe mental disorder in which the individual’s contact with reality becomes highly distorted.

Douglas Coupland, the author whom Tom Wolfe calls “one of the freshest, most exciting voices of the novel today,” delivers his tenth book in ten years of writing, with All Families Are Psychotic. Coupland recently has been compared to Jack Kerouac and F. Scott Fitzgerald, yet he is a man firmly grounded in the current era. The novel is a sizzling and sharp-witted entertainment that resounds with eternal human yearnings.

In the opening pages, 65-year-old Janet Drummond checks the clock in her cheap motel room near Cape Canaveral, takes her prescription pills and does a rapid tally of the whereabouts of her three children: Wade, the eldest, in and out of jail and still radiating ”the glint”; suicidal Bryan, whose girlfriend, the vowel-free Shw, is pregnant; and Sarah, the family’s shining light, an astronaut preparing to be launched into space as the star of a shuttle mission. They will all arrive in Orlando today – along with Janet’s ex-husband Ted and his new trophy wife – setting the stage for the most disastrous family reunion in the history of fiction. Florida may never recover from their version of fun in the sun.

The last time the family got together, there was gunplay and an ensuing series of HIV infections. Now, what should be a celebration turns instead into a series of mishaps and complications that place the family members in constant peril. When the reformed Wade attempts to help his dad out of a financial jam and pay off his own bills at the fertility clinic, his plan spins quickly out of control. Adultery, hostage-taking, a letter purloined from Princess Diana’s coffin, heart attacks at Disney World, bankruptcy, addiction and black-market negotiations – Coupland piles on one deft, comic plot twist after another, leaving you reaching for your seat belt. When the crash comes, it is surprisingly sweet.

Janet contemplates her family, and where it all went wrong. “People are pretty forgiving when it comes to other people's family. The only family that ever horrifies you is your own.” During the writing, Coupland described the book as being about “the horrible things that families do to each other and how it makes them strong.” He commented: “Families who are really good to each other, I’ve noticed, tend to dissipate, so I wonder how awful a family would have to be to stick together.”

Coupland’s first novel, Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture, became a cultural phenomenon, affixing a buzzword and a vocabulary to a generation and going on to sell over a million copies. The novels that followed were all bestsellers, and his work has continued to show a fascination with the digital, brand-conscious, media-dense culture of contemporary North American society, leading some to peg him as “an up-to-the-minute cultural reference engine.” Meanwhile, his deeper interests in how human beings function in this spiritual vacuum have become increasingly apparent. For example, the character Wade contemplates his father: “What would the world have to offer Ted Drummond, and the men like him, a man whose usefulness to the culture had vanished somewhere around the time of Windows 95? Golf? Gold? Twenty-four hour stock readouts?” Janet, on the other hand, nears a kind of peace with life: “Time erases both the best and the worst of us.” All Families Are Psychotic shows Coupland being just as concerned for the grown-ups as for the kids.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC; First Printing edition (7 Sep 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1582342156
  • ISBN-13: 978-1582342153
  • Product Dimensions: 2 x 13.8 x 20 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 2.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,519,051 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars Poor transference to kindle 23 Sep 2010
Format:Kindle Edition
A good book spoiled by a rubbish kindle transference. Stray I and T and ) all over the place. obviously not proof read. Poor show.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.3 out of 5 stars  67 reviews
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Much better than the Reviews Say 5 Jan 2003
By Robert Wellen - Published on
Is Coupland a perfect writer? No. Is this book perfect? No. Is it a terrific read? Yes. Coupland has a unique voice and he again says alot here. This book is almost as good as my Miss Wyoming. It is not even close to his worst effort, Shampoo Planet. The story here is fantastical like the story in "Girlfriend in a coma," but it works. With DC you always need to suspend disbelief. Enjoy his satire and fall in love with his characters. There are some universal truths about families in here. It is an incredibly fast read. It is not the most profound you will find, but like space, infinitely enjoyable. I won't soon forget it.
The next time I see a star fall, I will think of Janet and her quiet awakening.
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good but disappointing. Could have been more. 25 Dec 2001
By A Customer - Published on
This is a good book. I don't think it is possible for Douglas Coupland to write a bad book. Like in all of his novels, the characters are memorable and colorful, the dialogue witty, and clever pop-culture references are everywhere.
That being said, I had better hopes for this one. Books can be classified according to their driving force: what makes them work. Coupland has a habit of writing character-driven novels, such as Microserfs or Generation X. Better than that is the theme-driven novel, where all action says an underlying and coherent thing about life. His only work that comes close to this ideal is Miss Wyoming.
Dissapointing, then, that this book was primarily plot-driven, with the characters along for the ride. It is time for Coupland to write a indisputably great novel, and not just one that works and is fun to read.
The most irritating part of this book is the coincidences. Coupland knows that as the writer he can make anything happen, which is fine, but it happens too often. Imagine if separate characters run off in separate directions and they don't have any idea where the others are, or even what city, but then they enter a random restaurant on a whim, and hey! There's the rest of the family. Normally forgivable, if it's necessary to the plot. But this kind of coincidence happens over and over, making it feel as if the story was strung together, with no crafting or deliberation. At that point, suspension of disbelief becomes difficult.
The first few chapters are fantastic, and full of life. I was disappointed that by the end it didn't live up to the full, developed style that this author is so capable of.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars I miss old-school Coupland ... 8 Sep 2001
By Jake Mohan - Published on
I feel that, since 1998's _Girlfriend In A Coma_, Douglas Coupland's books have become, well, less satisfying. They are still packed with trademark Couplandisms: coy observations of Western traditions and foibles, pop-culture ephemera as metaphysical benchmark, wildly improbable escapades by zany protagonists who are deeply flawed but still pure of heart. But somewhere along the way, his stories lost the carefully-developed, mature tone of _Microserfs_ and _Life After God_ and became too quick, too clever, too cute.
The characters in _All Families Are Psychotic_ - from the wise matriarch to the alcoholic father to the waiters and waitresses in restaurants - all speak in the same witty, articulate banter of Cultural Studies majors. Reality in dialogue has always been a weakness of Coupland's, but here the too-clean exchanges between characters grate on my nerves. Coupland's main priority has always been to share interesting and pointed observations he's made about North American culture, and his characters serve as mouthpieces for his message. But I buckled under the disbelief I was suspending when the aforementioned matriarch remarks to her dinner date, "Salad bars are like a restaurant's lungs ... they soak up the impurities and the bacteria in the environment, leaving us with much cleaner air to enjoy." And there's more where that came from. Such remarks are not in themselves repellent, and perhaps that's why I prefer Coupland's nonfiction (_Polaroids From The Dead_) and his short stories (_Life After God_) - in these, he doesn't try to accomplish so much at once, and appears more at ease with his craft.
All Families Are Psychotic does surpass its disappointing predecessor, Miss Wyoming (2000), which read like a creative-writing student doing an impression of Coupland. Families does approach such well-trodden millenial obsessions as AIDs, Princess Diana, and religion from new angles, and there are moments when the cleverness is pure, and well-timed, and results in a chuckle or an aha. There are even some touching moments when Coupland allows his characters to speak emotionally with each other. Perhaps I'm just too much of an old-school Coupland fan: I yearn for the early days of _Generation X_ and _Shampoo Planet_ and _Microserfs_.
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Coupland's stumble 12 Oct 2004
By E. A Solinas - Published on
Tolstoy once wrote "All happy families are alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." With Douglas Coupland, the sentiment seems to be that "All Families Are Psychotic." A wildly bizarre look at a soap opera family gone crazy, unfortunately this book is rather humorless by Coupland's standards.

The dysfunctional Drummond family is gathering together, as daughter Susan is about to be sent up into space. As they do, they reflect on their tangled, messy past -- including the fact that son Wade slept with his stepmother Nickie, then got shot by his father Ted, striking his mother Janet. Now Janet and Wade have AIDS, and Nickie is HIV positive.

To make things worse, downbeat brother Bryan shows up with his anarchist girlfriend Shw, who is pregnant. She claims she's going to abort, but has secretly arranged to sell her child to a seemingly ordinary couple. And Ted has prostate cancer. In the few days before Susan's launch, the bizarre extended family wrangles out some of their old arguments, and learns a few new things about themselves.

Every author stumbles, and consider "All Families Are Psychotic" as Douglas Coupland stubbing his toe. It's not exactly a bad book, but it lacks the complexity and wry wit that most of his books have. He tends to do modern sociology well, while this mainly seems like a soap opera gone completely mad.

Coupland populates this world of his with insane hippies, amorous astronauts and suicidal musicians. So you can guess that there's plenty of trouble. The scenarios are mostly pretty funny, such as the mad chase for a letter to Princess Di, although they get a bit over-the-top sometimes. However, Coupland slows the pace for some insightful looks at America, family and the shattering aftereffects of divorce.

The characters lack dimension -- specifically, they lack the "likability" dimension. Only the jilted Janet is likable, as she steps out of the "dutiful housewife" mold and becomes her own person. The others are almost good characters, but Coupland never gives us a reason to really like any of them -- even the thalidomide-deformed (and married) Susan is having a fling with her (also married) mission commander.

While it's grim a lot of the time, "All Families Are Psychotic" has sprawling flashes of wit and peculiar humor. An interesting read, but not one of Coupland's better novels.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars My family is psychotic 27 Sep 2005
By Maggie Tulliver - Published on
I think, perhaps, the reason I enjoyed this book so thoroughly is because my family is, in fact, psychotic. I read this book immediately after reading Hey Nostradmus! because I was instantly infautated with Coupland's writing style. I thought this book was equally as good as my prior read. It was hilarious and fantastical. I'm not one for fantasy or science fiction, and I certainly didn't expect any of that from this book, but this only being my second Coupland novel, I wasn't really familiar with the tidbits of fantasy. But, I loved it. 100%, two thumbs up, 5 stars, etc etc etc. Makes you family not seem so crazy.
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