I took a week away from the blogosphere, and I am still surprisingly OK, holding up nicely thank you very much. I had some withdrawal symptoms, but I am still vertical and breathing.
I Just picked up Douglas Coupland's latest novel The Gum Thief from my local library and just started diving in right away. Admittedly, ever since his masterpiece Life After God forever altered my universe 12 years a go I have felt compelled to read every book that he has come out with since.
So with little further ado, I thought I would blog as I read this book. Kind of a fun way to share my experience of it, and more engaging than just posting a review. There will likely be quite a few posts on this - you have been warned!
To start with, even if Coupland's overall narrative structures can be illusive at times, he has the ability to capture the type of thoughts or ideas that can pass through your mind in a heightened moment of angst or when you step back and really look around, though they are rarely articulated to anyone else. In Coupland's universe these types of thoughts are regular conversation pieces.
Case in point, the opening two paragraphs, taken from the diary of a middle aged man clearly unhappy with the direction his life has taken:
A few years ago it dawned on me that everybody past a certain age - regardless of how they look on the outside - pretty much constantly dreams of being able to to escape from their lives. They don't want to be who they are any more. They want out. This list includes Thurston Howell the Third, Ann-Margret, the cast members of Rent, Vaclav Havel, space shuttle astronauts and Snuffleupagus. It's universal.
Do you want out? Do you often wish you could be somebody, anybody, other than who you are - the you who holds a job and feeds a family - the you who keeps a relatively okay place to live and who still tries to keep your friendships alive? In other words, the you who 's going to remain pretty much the same until the casket?
I was chewing on this passage for a while. In terms of the notion of "wanting out", my initial thoughts were around what is the source of this perpetual self dissatisfaction that Coupland refers to? Is there an innate form of restlessness that is just part of the human psyche, or is it more a symptom of the era we live in?
Putting it another way, did kings counting their gold and serfs working their fields in the middle ages also dream of shedding their skins, or is this merely the affliction of our age, the natural bi-product of being subjected to decades worth of advertising telling us that there is always a better you?
Admittedly I am a fence sitter here; I think as humans we are naturally prone to wander and dream, though perhaps what in the past may have been fanciful musings during on an idle moment has now mutated into persistent and nagging desires that are as accelerated as the culture we live in.
Personally, I don't "want out", though like everyone else I can could easily make a list of personality traits or habits I would like to transform. I do agree that we are essentially the same person from cradle to casket, and that despite being altered by our experiences and the world around us, I believe the same overarching themes persist throughout our lives. They just become more complex, couched in different language, coloured by new experiences, but remain essentially the same.
OK, all this from the opening two paragraphs! I am actually having fun so far, and as usual Coupland's universe is inhabited by quintessentially post-modern characters riddled with enough angst to fuel 10 Nirvana albums. So far we have a middle aged man and a 20 something goth girl exchanging thoughts in an open diary in order to alleviate the tedium of working a mind numbing job at a Staples business supply store in North Vancouver. This is classic Coupland indeed.
More to come for sure - I am 40 pages in for anyone who wants to follow along and read as well - please do, I am an extroverted reader!
Also check out this little promo clip for the book from YouTube, about the middle aged Roger character - very Couplandesque!