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on 7 May 2010
I've always admired the fact that Douglas Coupland can exploit metafiction and postmodern absurdity while still remaining within the limits of 'commercial fiction'. His novels are real stories, which go somewhere, and have characters that learn things. They can be read as a literary exercise OR just a good yarn.
But, with The Gum Thief, Coupland seems to have gotten tired of playing by the rules of commercial fiction. The novel is unashamedly full of tricksy postmodernism and characters that are obstinate and unlikeable. There are no dramatic set pieces or surges of emotion. The Gum Thief is a story within a story within a story - and none of those stories provide the easy satisfaction that comes when a good plot is tied up in a neat bow.
The novel is, ostensibly, about an aging, alcoholic, would-be author, who works at Staples and begins exchanging letters with a goth co-worker. In fact, this is merely a frame that allows Coupland to skewer the pretensions of the writing profession. Writers are ripe for satire, but even I - who has observed or experienced many of the things that Coupland satirizes, such as ridiculous creative writing exercises and lauded authors who haven't written a word in years - found the subject an insubstantial basis for a novel.
The Gum Thief is well-written, well-observed and frequently amusing. But, ultimately, there's no *there* there. The characters are hard to engage with; the storyline is nonexistent. It's as pointless a read as all the writing exercises that come out of creative writing classes.