A story which comes from what Coupland knows, who he knows and where he lives and British Columbia can be a threatening place for the vulnerable. There is no pandering to the hopes of the reader - rather the honest playing out of a harsh story, which has a softer thread within.
Around the turn of the century, the US was collectively traumatised by High School-shootings and the 911 attacks. Hey Nostradamus! is Douglas Coupland's astonishing, humane response. Rather than aspire to sweeping statements about society, he focuses on four of the lives that were profoundly affected by a senseless school massacre.
The four characters start with victim Cheryl, young, in love, and a realistic seventeen. She has a naive, pure faith in God and her boyfriend Jason, who finds himself vilified for his part in the attack. Jason is deeply damaged, a lost soul who cannot escape the impact of that day. He questions himself ruthlessly and suffers terrifying blackouts. The third chapter is narrated by the lovely Heather, intelligent, quirky and lonely who falls in love with Jason. And the final, briefest chapter is left to the enigmatic Reg, the father who Jason hates with a compulsive passion.
The book has an elegant, logical structure: the four characters each tell their stories in turn, overlapping and continuing as the ripples of the attack flow forward in time. This structure seems to me to hold the fragile stories in place, to give them some security and a sense of a framework that belies the truth that there stories all have no beginning and no end.
I've only read two Coupland books - in fact only one if you want to be picky because I listened to this one as an audiobook. Nevertheless, Coupland's insight and manner of storytelling has me hooked. He is different to anyone else that I've ever read.
There are two aspects to this review - the story itself, and the narration of the audiobook.
First up - the story. Coupland takes the one incident, a high school massacre, and tells how it impacted the lives of four people from their perspective. But cleverly he doesnt look at the massacre four times, but at the story of one set of relationships and how they are impacted by the one event. It is a linear story rather than a cyclical one. It continuously moves in unexpected ways without being trite or convoluted. Each of the four parts is a soliloquy, or a monologue - following the thoughts and feelings of the character, and at the same time developing the storyline.
Its hard to write anymore about the story without giving too much away, so I'll stop here!
Next up - the audiobook. Wow! Tremendous narration. Four different narrators used - one for each section of the book. The only confusion was at one point in the first part when other people seem to be praying, and it isnt clear in the audio that they are different because the same narrator speaks their part. It is clear enough in the print version because the page is set out differently. That aside I would gladly listen to it again. The last narrator is especially good. Excellent casting.
This book is easy to read and engaging. It is narrated by four characters, who have all been affected by a high school massacre and have their own side of the story to tell.
Set against the dark context of the columbine shootings, it provokes many different emotions, and while it is essentially a light read it carries a heavy atmosphere, projecting many messages to the reader in relation to loss, love, death, religion, and many others. It is also very personal, not just in relation to the characters, but for people who really were affected by the shootings.
I put this novel down feeling very close to the characters, and when I reached the emotional ending I felt that the novel has much to offer, possibly even an aspect of comedy in one particular scene.
Overall it is a simple, thought provoking story. I wouldn't recommend it to anyone who is only looking for a light paper-flick.
When I bought this book I didn't quite know what to expect. I admit I haven't read any of Coupland's previous books, most people I know haven't even heard of him before (that's what you get when you live in a small town in Portugal) and the title itself wasn't very revealing. The story revolves around a shooting in a North Vancouver high-school in 1988 and a number of people affected directly and indirectly by that event. Now this I knew before I bought this book. Somehow I had the idea that this was some kind of "Bowling for Columbine" spin off. After all, there have been a few documentaries, movies and books lately about high school shootings especially in the US so maybe this one was *just another one*? Not at all. This book is wonderful precisely because it stays away from politics, from the media circus, from the "social" causes of whatever happened and focuses solely on the actual people, individuals who were the victims. Not all victims, mind you: just one direct victim and her family. So this is the story of Cheryl Anway. She finds out that she's pregnant in the morning before she left for school. Cheryl belongs to a Christian youth group where petty recrimination runs high with the sole ambition of meeting a guy, Jason. They end up together and when he wants to go further she is adamant: no sex before marriage. So fine, he says, let's get married. They end up in Las Vegas, have a cabbie as a witness, spend a night of lust at the Ceaser's before jetting off back to Vancouver at 6am. And they decide that they won't tell anyone. We hear this story from Cheryl's mouth. At the same time she also talks about the shooting and how she died. (She's somewhere between earth and "heaven" so obviously she's in a state of enough peace of mind to tell the story. Except she has vengeance feelings against the people who killed her). Jason also tells his story, ten years after the shooting. He lives alone and is a very bitter guy. He reflects on his relationship with Cheryl, how they had a petty fight in the morning before she was killed. He also describes what he saw of the shooting and his role: he ends up hitting one of the attackers with a well aimed stone. Unfortunately they had already hit Cheryl. He is later found by the Police holding her in a puddle of blood. After the shooting he is thought of as being an accomplice and his feelings of shock at what happened, rejection from society and his father, a Christian weirdo, telling him he had "murder in his mind" when he held that stone are too much. And so he and his mother move away to New Brunswick, on the other coast of Canada. I won't go further except to say that Heather, his girlfriend also tells her story two years later, and so does his father, a lone man, full of doubts about his religion. This is a truly wonderful book. It is passionate, deals with very complex emotions and avoids all linearity that today's media throw at us when broadcasting events like a shooting. It deals only with human nature by showing how prone we are to depression, to disgust and revolt but also to forgiveness and understanding and recovery. I will tell just one more thing: read this, you will absolutely love it.
I haven't read any Douglas Coupland apart from this novel, but rest assured that the minute I press "submit" on this review I'll be going down to the library to check out the rest of them! "Hey Nostradamus" is a story told from the viewpoint of four very different people: Cheryl, the wistful teenager cut down in her prime; Jason, her guiltstricken, psychologically scarred husband; Heather, his loving girlfriend; and Reg, his religious and ultimately crushed father. After a gun massacre in the school cafeteria, the lives of all four characters are changed irrevocably. Coupland's characters are delightfully believable and human. You find yourself caring for all of them, even the most unlikeable ones. He has a clever "Chinese box style" narrative of placing stories within stories, and using letters, etc. as a way of communicating the feelings of other, minor characters. The intricacy of the book's structure makes it a joy to read, as well as the breath-takingly intense plot. Enjoy.
Coupland has once again produced a strong story, with an element of the surreal creeping in. Whereas "All Families are Psychotic" had a number of surreal strands that rendered the required the reader to suspend their normal perspective, the worrying aspect of "Hey Nostradamus!" is that the principle surreal element is a school shooting that is, in fact, all too plausible. One aspect of the shooting is recounted from a victim's perspective (and from the perspective of immediately after the event), whereas the other story strands are taken from the vantage of several years after the event. The chain reactions from this are elegantly woven together - the husband of the victim who can not come to terms with the event, his relationship to his father and how that develops as a consequence of the tragedy, how his family interacts with his father. As with most of Coupland's later works, this story evolves through the different perspectives, rather than follows a rigid plot and time line. As either an introduction to those who have not read Coupland before, of for established fans, this is a volume that is well worth reading.