There has been something wrong with Douglas Coupland novels as of late. They have been far too full of car chases and dysfunctional family abuse and obnoxious coincidence and invented gagetry and odd human tricks. His themes are the same as they’ve been through all his work—fear of apocalypse, the tribulations of a generation that didn’t really grow up with religion, the way people relate to each other—but where the worthwhile ideas were once spoken by characters you came to enjoy in books with minimalist plot but lots of personality, they are now just folded into thickened plots that seem constructed around the things that Coupland wants to have characters think and say. Eleanor Rigby centres around a lonely West Vancouver woman (the link between her and the most musically famous of lonely women is made painfully obvious when she gives her email address as firstname.lastname@example.org) and the son she put up for adoption when she was 16 who falls into her life at the same time that the comet Halle-Bopp appears in the sky. It is a decently enjoyable read; the story moves quickly, has its clever bits, and contains enough mystery to keep the plot going. It also has enough flaws so that all through your reading you are conspicuously aware that it’s just not a very good book. The language is a bit stifled (at one point a character refers to an “on-line web log”) and the Vancouver place-name-dropping is gratuitous, almost as if Doug thinks that since he wrote City of Glass all his readers, all over the globe, will have an intimate understanding of what it means to stroll along Ambleside.
The main problem, though, is that Douglas Coupland novels just don’t seem relevant anymore. A medium that Coupland used, with Generation X and Microserfs, to uniquely characterize a time or a scene or a feeling, now seems trite. It feels as though Coupland is writing novels like this one, and like All Families are Psychotic, merely because he is a novelist. At the same time, however, his other projects have been great—the alphabetical snippet-format ethnographies of Vancouver and Canada in City of Glass and Souvenir of Canada worked really well, and the gigantic green army guys he sculpted were awesome. I’m pretty sure that Douglas Coupland still matters; he has an upcoming exhibition at the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal called “Super City” in which he uses toy building kits from the sixties as a jumping off point for “looking at the urban environment as both experience and mental construct,” but maybe he should stop disappointing his fans by writing novels that don’t come anywhere close to the salience of his earlier work.