Thursday, October 25, 2007

"The Gum Thief" - Douglas Coupland

This one had me stumped for days. I finished it last sunday but I just couldn't make up my mind on "The Gum Thief".

The thing is, I couldn't believe Coupland actually wrote something so mediocre and derivative and was trying desperately to justify it. But I can't - if "The Gum Thief" had been written by an unknown author, I believe it would never have seen the light of day, and readers everywhere would have missed absolutely nothing.

I read "Generation X" when I was 12 or 13 years old and became a fully fledged fan at 16 with "Life After God". I grew up reading Coupland and he is probably the one author of which I read everything (fiction). I loved the "uppers" ("Shampoo Planet", "Microserfs", "Miss Wyoming", "All Families Are Psychotic") and grew to appreciate the "downers" ("Girlfriend In A Coma", "Hey, Nostradamus", "Eleanor Rigby"). Last year's "JPod" felt like his best work ever.

So I was looking forward to "The Gum Thief", set in Staples and featuring Roger, a divorced forty something and Bethany a twenty-something goth. After the first entry by Roger, though, the book just seems to go nowhere, slowly. I had to force myself to keep going - I actually fell asleep three times reading it (and not at night).

It's not just the fact that so many of the ideas are recycled from previous novels (life after a certain age is meaningless and empty; fear of the pending apocalipse; sadness at the absence of faith, or at least a religious education; loving the new, hating the old ergo, hating Europe; fear of not being able to love or connect with other human beings)because Coupland always played around with the same set of fixed notions. And it's not that the format of narration (circumscribed to written communications between Roger, Bethany and her mother) seems to keep the characters and story at a fuzzy distance.

It's just that it's no good. And while on the one hand, I got the feeling that Coupland was aiming at a younger audience of new readers (hence the summary of all his ideas), on the other, it was pretty clear that his heart wasn't in it.

"The Gum Thief" makes life seem completely bleak and hopeless, and then, in the very last pages, as Bethany tries to take her own life, Roger (who certainly contributed to her feeling that way)suddenly changes his tone dramatically and tells her, in a completely sappy epistle, that life is worth living: sure, there's not any real hope of attaining knowledge or happiness, but's great to be alive!

Honestly, it felt like the last, life-affirming and then "hey, the whole thing was a joke! Lighten up!" pages were ordered by the publisher, in an effort to curtail a wave of teen suicides in British Columbia.

Look, don't spend 250-plus pages persuading me that life in the new millennium is utterly hopeless and depressing and then try to tell me you don't really mean it. That's just wrong.

As for "Glove Pond" the novel within the novel, that Roger keeps feeding Bethany and that critics found "a camp reconstruction of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” directed by a young John Waters" and "campily funny", I thought it was beyond terrible. I still don't know what the point was, and if there was one, it still doesn't justify how completely uninteresting it was.

My husband had a dream where I said "Look not only Douglas Coupland doesn't want to grow up, he also doesn't want his readers to grow up". I don't know if that's it, but "The Gum Thief" left me feeling a little sad. I almost wish it had left me feeling old.
That, I could deal with.

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