Without wanting to just jump into this review (but conceding that I am anyway) what I (and many other Coupland fans) love about his work is the fact that, despite not being able to remember the thread of the story barely three days after finishing any given book, you do always remember the feeling of overwhelming satisfaction on turning the last page. I have read most of Coupland's work up to this point (some of which I have reviewed here, the rest of which I intend to), yet I can't really put my finger on any real details of any of the books I have had the pleasure of reading. Whilst I could remember the unknown daughter turning up in "Girlfriend in a Coma" and a single survivor eager to lose her identity in "Ms Wyoming", I couldn't remember the names of either leading lady in the two novels (I have since cheated and looked on Amazon for one - for the other, I have beaten temptation...so far!). I can remember the Columbinesque massacre and the touching scene of a mother crawling on her hands and knees on a motorway after her son in "Hey Nostradamus!" and "Eleanor Rigby" respectively, but can't remember how either story ends. Where "All Families are Psychotic", "Shampoo Planet" and "Generation X" are concerned, I can vaguely recall a woman astronaut, a shampoo-collecting sycophant and poisoned chemicals being spilled on a carpet - but very little else. As for "Microserfs", "Life After God" and "JPod", my memory has failed me altogether. "Polaroids from the Dead" is, indeed, no exception: whilst the haunting picture of Kurt Cobain will be etched on my soul for years to come, and the amusing "Harolds" will bring a smile to my face - for the foreseeable future at least - other than that, I can remember nothing of the book I have just read... and that, ironically, is what makes it brilliant.
I won't go into the synopsis of the book - primarily because it is too hard to specifically pin-point what the novel is actually about. I will, however, give three reasons as to why this book is a "must-have" for all Coupland, and non-Coupland fans, alike. As one reviewer has already pointed out so accurately, "the disjointed nature of the book is perhaps it's greatest strength", and no doubt this is true. Whilst the length of the book would mean that a determined reader could finish it within a couple of hours, the book itself was designed to create a spirit of reflection and is thus better understood when taken as a small series of "essays", preferably read at random. Within each of his chapters, Coupland beautifully captures the trivial, yet defining moments of our lives - moments which many of us are too scared to acknowledge, even to ourselves: no truer word has been spoken that that of a previous reviewer who said that Coupland's work is merely a "mirror-image of our own lives". Coupland's masterpiece is also brilliant in the way it captures the true essence of post-modernity: not only does the subject matter address the true spirit of the age, but the way in which the content of Doug's book is laid out also embraces the underlying concept of randomness - the defining characteristic of the moment. The final reason why the book is so good is the fact that it achieves the objectives that it initially set out for itself. Positioned as a non-fictional analysis of fictional characters, Doug states in his opening chapter of the book that he is going to address previously-"fringe"-but-now-"dominant" ideas that developed during the course of the 1990's (particularly in the period between 1990 and 1996), with specific reference to the "vanishing middle", the collapse of entitlement, the rise of irony, technological-inducing social unpheaval and the feeling of timelessness. All credit must go to Coupland for actually keeping focus and developing these ideas further - a difficult task to complete when dealing with a potentially "fictional" essay.