Friday 2 March 2007

Douglas Coupland - Girlfriend in a Coma

Coupland does what he can do best – create a circle of likeable characters who search for meaning in a world that seems to lack exactly that. In "Generation X", it was some friends who decided to move to the desert, survive on McJobs they were too qualified for. Meaning for them was storytelling. In "Microserfs", a group of minor Microsoft debuggers decided to leave Silicon Valley to found their very own software firm, one that would help users to create things with Lego-blocks.
These six main characters are different. They resist the idea of any meaning and flee from reality. The event that triggers their retreat from reality happens in 1970 - one of them, Karen, falls into a coma after having terrible visions of the future. She leaves her five friends paralysed for eighteen years.
Richard, Karen's boyfriend, flees into alcoholism. He is the main character in the beginning of the novel, though it is narrated by Jared, a high school friend who died aged sixteen of leukaemia, and has returned as a ghost to watch over his friends. Karen, while in her coma, gives birth to Richard's daughter, Megan.
The other characters are Pam, who becomes a model in the Eighties and in consequence a drug addict, Hamilton, who soon becomes her husband and fellow drug addict, Wendy, an uptight doctor who flees into her work and marries Linus, who likes to travel around as a hobo which still doesn't help him to understand the world better.
The next 18 years pass – different styles of music, drugs. Coupland's ability to grasp pop culture is as strong as ever when the friends start working on a new mystery show, which started in 1993, in Vancouver. Some of them find locations in this landside that could pass as anything, others build the gruesome plastic models of corpses, aliens and monsters.
In 1997, Karen wakes up from her coma, and her predictions about the end of the world come true when everyone lies down and immediately dies, except for the six friends and Megan, who is pregnant.
Imagine to be the only one alive in a deserted world. What would you do? Would YOU ask question, would You ask for meaning?
The friends play video games, collect diamonds, do drugs.
If all these facts sound disconnected, if you feel that the novel does not seem to have a story or rather an aim, you are right. The powerful element of it are the pictures of the apocalypse it evokes. You are transported into the landscape, you smell the air. I always though it was the one Douglas Coupland novel that had the biggest potential to be made into a film, but its rather like a series of short scenes that will never leave your head again.
The message behind the novel is revealed at the very end. Jared returns and tells his friends that they failed a test. They were supposed to ask questions, to wonder, to think. The other point is that the humans have changed the world to an extent that makes it impossible to go on normally if the human race should cease to exist. Nuclear power, not supervised, would literally mean the end of the world.
The friends get a second chance. They are allowed to return to the world as we know it as some kind of mad prophets.

"You'll soon be seeing us walking down your street, our backs held proud, our eyes dilated with truth and power. We might look like you, but you should know better. We'll draw our line in the sand and force the world to cross our line. Every cell in our body will explode with truth. We will be kneeling in front of the Safeway, atop out of date textbooks whose pages we have chewed out. We'll be begging passers-by to see the need to question and question and never to stop questioning until the world stops spinning. We'll be adults who smash the tired, exhausted system. We'll crawl and chew and dig our way into a radical new world. We will change minds and souls from stone an plastic into linen and gold – that's what I believe. That's what I know."

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