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Some good moments, but not one of his best
on 16 April 2010
I'm a great admirer of Douglas Coupland's gifts: his memorable use of simile, his empathy with his characters, and his gift for revealing love and beauty in the most unpromising of locations. Here, he turns his eye to a satirical treatment of fame, beauty contests, making movies and fandom with the tale of washed-out film director John Johnson's pursuit of ex-child beauty queen / soap opera star Susan Colgate. This takes quite a while (the whole book, even) because there's a lot of doubling back to show you how they became the damaged people they are. Some of this exposition is done quite explicitly (including toe-curling scenes of each of them eating out of garbage cans), but it's all done - I think - to reinforce the redemption that comes into their lives with the discovery of true love.
Unfortunately, by the time that turned up, I could feel my attention wandering (at one point, I realized that I was unsure about the difference between some of the minor characters, which isn't a good sign). To be fair, there are some good moments: Coupland gives you an insight into the life of the semi-famous that's valuable in a celebrity-obsessed culture, and he hasn't lost his gift for turning a phrase: for example, at one point, Susan highlights the Catholic guilt of her would-be (married) lover with "Excuse *me*, Larry. Pope on line three", which made me smile. This gift allows him to deftly summarise a setting with just a few words, e.g. (p183) "They were breakfasting in the Alpine Room of the Denver Marriott. It was seven-fifteen Tuesday morning, at an orientation meeting and 'Prayer Wake-Up with Turkey Sausage - Turkey, the Low-fat Pork Substitute'".