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An Unsatisfying Tease Of a Book
on 23 August 2012
The novel opens with the reader being addressed by a dead school jock who collapsed on the field of play and was diagnosed with fatal leukemia. The mix of quirky and misery pervades throughout the book, as the jock hands over narrative duties to the boyfriend of a girl who falls into a 17 year long coma after they finally seal their relationship with a consummative act of sex.
The group of high school graduates enter the big wide world, all the while their friend and lover lies in a persistent vegetative state. Their highs and lows are plotted against her unchanging state. But in truth they seem to be going nowhere, even when they are making progress in their careers. Something seems to be missing.
And it's here where Coupland's novel is a real tease. He hints at why their lives are unfulfilled. All sorts of strange groupings of fate centre around this group that seems to make them immune for the rest of the world's manipulations. And this protected status is actualised in parts 2 and 3 of the book, though I won't spoil in what way. However, the metaphysical debate that Coupland offers behind their feelings and their status turns out to be empty-handed as all the questions about life and its purpose are thrown back on the reader. So the tease that Coupland might be building up to and preparing us for some mighty answers to gigantic questions, is shown to be an utterly empty reveal. Ultimately, the characters shrink in stature to bratty, wastrel, self-indulgent post-teens who never really grew up and my sympathy for one largely evaporated. It is probably a deliberate contrast of the infinity of possibility felt by teens on the cusp of adulthood when graduating and about to launch into the world and that submergence of such possibility within the need to work and pay the mortgage. But this slips into insignificance when held up against the grander metaphysical questions Coupland seems to be offering throughout.
Having said that, Coupland is too good an author not to also move & involve me at points. The scene when the 10 year old daughter conceived the night of her mother slipping into a coma, gets to see her mother for the first time some ten years later is heart-rending. Equally some of the detail of the wasted body when Karen does finally emerge from her coma are beautifully drawn. However the language is curiously flat in places, the metaphors being drawn in the mundane of the domestic; while this may suit the novel's theme of the struggle between the ennobling of the spirit and its crushing in the everyday, it means the words don't really soar off the page " I want to squish my friends into my heart, as though they could grout a troublesome crack". So for me, these are not enough to save what is a curate's egg of a book.