Friday, September 02, 2011

Player One by Douglas Coupland

Alright, so I lied — or spoke too soon, at any rate. After Generation A I was determined to never again pick up another Douglas Coupland novel. But then the CBC announced Coupland as last year's Massey Lecturer; to clinch any potential listener disappointment, they immediately added that Coupland would be “lecturing” in a novel format. Well . . . I suppose that was indeed a “novel” approach to take, if only by CBC standards.

The Massey Lectures are a platform for a Canadian blowhard-at-large to summon his (and occasionally her) most pertinent insights gleaned from a respectable life's work. This frequently requires the person to resort to, in their case, extreme truncation, often producing the most accessible and thought-provoking work in their entire ouevre. Even when the personality invited is someone I've wearied of, I make it a point to tune in, or read the essays when the event is over. I'm always grateful for the experience.

As I was this time, too — although just barely. All of Coupland's foibles and weaknesses as a fiction writer are on full display. Some years back a former copy-editor of Coupland groused (anonymously, of course) that the job had been akin to shepherding a beginner's creative writing class. With that kvetch freshly resurrected in memory, and compelled by the recent internet fixation with marginalia, I picked up my pen and treated the book as a proof-text. The exercise produced pages like this and this, and a happier feeling for me as a reader.

Do I really need to comment on content? Coupland glosses over issues of identity, distraction, consumption and the capacity for empathy, the post-Protestant religious impulse, extinction and a few other fixations that keep nagging at him, but which he can't seem to give cogent voice to except through the mouths of superficially distinct characters engaged in an extreme form of group therapy. These “episodes” suggest a solipsist narrator of particularly high sensitivity, who is continually astonished by the intrusions other people make.

Does that sound to you like a bad thing? Then you probably should avoid this book. Otherwise, take it for what it's worth. Just remember: pens are required when reading Coupland.

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