Friday, July 24, 2009

"What a Douglas Coupland-ish thing to blog about."

I was talking last week with Will about writers who use gimmicks we hate in anyone else's writing but love in theirs. The perfect example, and the one cited in the conversation, was Stephen King's metanarrative in the sixth and seventh books of the Dark Tower series. The author himself enters the story and plays a key role in it, forcing the heroes to rescue him in order to save themselves. In that moment, the story acknowledges that it is a written story, while at the same time insisting on its own reality. (Science fiction folks would default to discussions of "parallel universes" at this point.)

This kind of ploy is transparent and tacky--a pure Eggersism (my own term), which was playful and fun when Dave Eggers pulled it out ten years ago (ten years? jiminy) but has since been ridden into the ground by hipster authors seeking the ultimate in metanarrative nirvana. (And what is blogging, if not an excercise in capturing metanarrative in a belljar?)

Okay. So, today, on the train, I was reading the latest (i think) book by Douglas Coupland, one of my favorite writers. The thing I love about Coupland is that his stories are both common and extraordinary at the same time. He takes quirky, slightly neurotic, but otherwise boring characters, inserts these ridiculous events into their everyday existence, and then lets them react to them. In Douglas Coupland's universe, your 9-5 job at a cubicle farm is destined to be interrupted by a biker gang busting through the door, or a nearby plane crash, or a crazed sibling with one arm running around screaming about the end of the world until your boss hits him with a golf club. And then you get lunch.

SO I started reading "jPod" this week, and I have to say I'm a little...let down. I mean, it's Coupland at his Coupland-est--video game designer, works with 5 other individually-bizarre designers, has a pot-growing mom who beats up and occasionally kills her customers and a wannabe-movie-star slash ballroom-dancing-champion dad. Add Chinese human-traffickers/gangsters, a douche-tastic boss who goes "missing," and a bizarre love story thread, and you've got vintage Coupland.

But the question is: Has Coupland crossed over into self-parody?

The opening line of the book is, "Oh God, I feel like a refugee from a Douglas Coupland novel."

No, really. The characters riff on Coupland's style and characterization several different times throughout the book. At one point, they imply that "Friends" stole its essential idea from Coupland's "Generation X." In another section, they're stuck drinking Zima, and complain that it's a total Couplandism.

The real kicker is when Coupland himself enters the story, on a transcontinental flight with the protagonist, and has an awkward conversation that is capped by a brutally-critical typed note from the writer, declaring how totally jacked-up and self-destructive the protagonist is.

(These things are no less cliched than Stephen King's entrance into Midworld, or his blatant, winking Deus Ex Machina moments in his last DT book. But that was King. And Dark Tower was awesome.)

I freely admit that I'm only about halfway through "jPod" and this could all be intentional on the part of the author as a satire of the self-referential, self-indulgent hipster novels that have flooded the writing scene. But if I give him the benefit of the doubt in this regard, I have to ask: doesn't he sacrifice too much of himself, too much of his own style, in order to make this point? If he is in fact parodying the ridiculous nature of second and third generation metafiction authors, doesn't he offer up his own oeuvre on the sacrificial altar in order to make that point?

I don't know. But I have to say, at this point in the novel, it's starting to turn me off. This may be the first Coupland novel I've read that I just didn't like. And it's unfortunate. (I haven't even gotten into all the annoying diversions he includes--spam emails, random lists of words, whole pages of prime numbers.)

It just feels like he's trying too hard. And he's better than that.


Unrelated: I know, I've been putting off the England accounts. It just feels like that should be done in 3-4 long pieces instead of a lot of little ones, and with all the stuff I've gotten into lately, I haven't really been able to set aside time. However, i fear i'll start losing some of those memories before I pin them down, so I'll get to it soon, for my own benefit as much as for yours. Thank you for your patience.


Jaimie Teekell said...

I feel like you have to be really famous to do that. And it's funny when famous people mock their own fame. But he's not famous enough... good gods, I've never heard of him more than three times.

It would put me off of him because I would think, "Wow, you really think you're all that? You really have that messed up of a perception of reality? How can I trust your writing then?"

Dave said...

See, i've read almost everything he's written, and i really liked it, so i'm hanging in with him. But even as a fan, I'm like, dude, enough already.

will said...

I really dig this post.

Not sure if that's really noteworthy or not, but there it is anyway.

Anonymous said...

The self-parody is intentional--I think he's purposefully skewering himself, and only incidentally taking the other guys down with him in the process. Have you not noticed the very obvious references to Microserfs? That book used those big pages of random text and prime numbers and such, too, and had a bunch of people in a cube farm who went off and tried to start something different (I think the demographics are even the same).

That all being said, I didn't like jPod, either.

Ginger said...

i love when you blog about books you are reading. hugs <3

Jaimie Teekell said...

Haha, everyone else geeked out about this writing post too, lol. I loved it!

Dave said...

Finished the book this weekend. The first one of Coupland's i just flat-out didn't enjoy. Boo.

bread-sandwich said...

The first time I read jPod it never even ocurred to me that the book was anything but a blatant parody of Douglas Coupland. The idea that it might be even slightly serious worries me somewhat.

I know one person who thinks that jPod is awesome but everything else Coupland has written is awful. Which strikes me as an odd view.

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