Friday, December 12, 2014

On re-reading Douglas Coupland

It’s a difficult thing, falling out of love with an author (or musician or artist or chef or, for that matter, a lover, I guess). The moment you realise their last two or three books have been dull reiterations of the same bloody theme, or misguided attempts to switch genre, or half-arsed doodles that wouldn’t have been commissioned if they didn’t have an established name attached, or some combination of all of them, can be a punch in the face. It’s not just the time you’ve wasted ploughing through the tomes in the hope of finding some of the sparkle that attracted you to the author in the first place; it’s the fact that even the earlier books, the ones you do love, are a little bit tainted. The question starts to nag at the back of your skull — were they actually that good to start with? And do you really want to go back and find out?

Shortly after I gave up on Douglas Coupland, thanks to the confused farce and misfiring satire of Worst. Person. Ever., I also managed to lose my Kindle, so found myself getting reacquainted with my bookcase. Which is how I found myself leafing through Coupland’s third book, Life After God, which I think I think I first read in the dying days of the John Major administration. In the last story, the narrator tracks down the friends from his teenaged years, including Julie, who is “trying to escape from ironic hell” – perhaps embodying the shift from the sarcastic wisecracks of the author’s debut, Generation X, to the more fleshed-out characters that came in the likes of Girlfriend in a Coma. And this exchange occurs, although as the use of the future tense implies, maybe it’s all in the narrator’s wishful thinking and will never really happen.
We will talk some more. She will remind me of a night the seven of us had back in 1983. “You know — the night we drank lemon gin and we each stole a flower from the West Van graveyard for our lapels.”
I will draw a blank. I won’t remember.
“Oh, Scout, don’t blank out on me now — you weren’t that drunk. You gave me all that great advice at that restaurant downtown. I changed schools because of that advice.”
I will still draw a blank. “Sorry, Julie.”
“This is truly pathetic, Scout. Think. Markie went shirtless down Denman Street; Todd and Dana and Kristy got fake tattoos.”
“Uh – brain death here. Nothing.”
Julie will become obsessed with making me remember: “There was that horrible brown vinyl 1970s furniture in the restaurant. You ate a live fish.”
“Wait!” I’ll cry. “Brown 1970s furniture – I remember brown 1970s furniture.”
“Well thank the Lord,” Julie will say, “I thought I was going mad.”
“No, wait, it’s all coming back to me now... the flowers... the fish.” Like a thin strand of dental floss the entire evening will return to me, inch by inch, gently tugged along by Julie. Finally, I will remember the night in its entirety, but the experience will be strangely tiring. The two of us will sit on the warm concrete steps quietly. “What was the point of that story, anyhow?” I will ask.
“I can’t remember,” Julie will say.
 You know, maybe he isn’t so bad after all.

1 comment:

Alistair Fitchett said...

I too lost faith in Coupland as a novelist and am now tempted to revisit the earlier books. I remember describing 'Life After God' as a great fanzine. Does it still have that sense, I wonder? I might grab my copy from the bookshelf too...