6/7/11

Kevin Geeks Out About: Douglas Coupland

For the most part this blog is a display-case for my little obsessions and observations.  This entry might not fit the usual profile, but it has to do with a writer I really like and will continue to read until one of us dies.

In Herman Raucher's novel Summer of '42 the main character's high school English teacher advises him to read the complete works of one author.  I have ended up doing that with novelist Douglas Coupland, who famously wrote Generation X.  He's a powerful writer and I've come to really love his books.  I was more moved than I should've been when a character in Microserfs referenced the way the roof of your mouth becomes raw when you eat too much Cap'n Crunch.  Coupland always combines an attention to pop-culture details with thoughtful ideas about the passage of time, our sense of identity, loneliness and depression.  He speaks to me.

One of my favorite passages appears in Coupland's third book, a collection of stories titled Life After God.  In "Things that Fly"the narrator struggles with a bad break-up and reflects upon the death of Superman and a profound sense of loneliness. I transcribed this next passage and put it into a hand-made greeting card that I gave to my girl-friend, after we broke up and then got back together.  So this passage has always stuck with me:

And then I got just plain lonely and just so fed up the badness in my life and in the world and I said to myself "Please, God, just make me a bird -- that's all I ever really wanted -- a white graceful bird free of shame and taint and fear and loneliness, and give me other white birds among which to fly and give me a sky so big that if I never wanted to land I would never have to." 
But instead, God gave me these words, and I speak them here. 

(Douglas Coupland, "Things that Fly", Life After God page 88, 1994)



Today I was reading Coupland's newest novel, Player One: What is to Become of Us. (Not to be confused with Ernie Cline's Ready Player One)  I don't want to give anything away, but I can tell you this much -- Rick, a recovering alcoholic and bartender, struggles with a catastrophe while worrying about his kid and his sobriety.  He tells a woman that he used to like the idea of Superman because he liked the idea that one person in the world didn't do any bad things, and he could fly.
Rick smiled, "I used to pray to God.  I asked "Please, God, just make me a bird, a graceful white bird free of shame and taint and fear and loneliness, and give me other white birds among which to fly, and give me a sky so big that if I never wanted to land I would never have to." Rick looked into Rachel's eyes. 
Rachel said, "But you can't be a bird. You're a person. People can't be birds." 
Rick smiled again.  "But instead God gave me you. And you are here with me, to listen to these words as I speak them." 

(Douglas Coupland, Player One: What is to Become of Us, page 149, 2010)


* * * 

I don't mention this to suggest that Coupland is stealing.  (If I were as good a writer as Coupland, I'd certainly borrow from my own work.)  One of the things I like about him is the way he re-visits themes again and again.

I guess the reasons I'm posting at all is:

1. To call attention to what a good close-reader I am.  It's a skill that some friends of mine deeply appreciate, and others don't want to have their work examined, they just want to hear that it's good (even if it's not.)

2. It makes me wonder if Rick (from Player One) is the narrator from "Things That Fly."  It could be.

3. Is Douglas Coupland putting these quotes in as "Easter Eggs" for his fans?  Player One also contains a great line about "following your dreams" that appears in J-Pod.  ("We're always hearing about "following your dream" -- but what if your dream is boring? Most people's dreams are boring.  What if your dream is to sell roadside corn -- if you went and sold it, would that mean you were living your dream?)  I have to assume there are even more examples of Coupland quoting himself, but I didn't notice or haven't found them yet.

4. I would not be surprised if Douglas Coupland came across this blog-post (or had someone forward to him.)  And Doug, if you're reading -- "hi!  I sure am liking the new book.  Also, I hope the J-Pod TV series becomes available on cable, HULU or DVD. Also, I dig that you're revisiting the desire to fly theme."

5. As far as I could tell from a quick google-search, I'm the first person to observe and note the quote in a public forum.  (I have to assume other people noticed, but apparently no one else is obsessive enough to write about it in public.  But I am.  And I speak these words here.


3 comments:

lisa said...

HOW have we never discussed Douglas Coupland?? I was minorly obsessed with Generation X and have read all of his stuff since (though I'm a couple books behind now, I think). I saw his movie "Everything's Gone Green" in NYC and was so thrilled when he did a talk after the screening.

Also, my verification word is "truthh", which is exactly what I'm saying here. It's all the truthh.

brainwane said...

Coupland and Neal Stephenson, then, have both observed how Cap'n Crunch can leave your mouth's roof hanging "gobbets of mouth-beef" if I recall correctly. Stephenson's is in Cryptonomicon.

I have a friend who always has two copies of Microserfs on-hand, one to lend out and one on his bedside table.

Terri said...

I just Googled to find out about this. I'm a big Coupland fan myself, and I was irked at how many passages were in "Player One" from his previous novels. I still enjoyed it, but I was surprised there was no explanation of it in the book or anywhere that I could find. I want to download and hear the Massey Lectures for (hopefully) some more insight. Interesting bit about Rick being the narrator from "Things That Fly." Great blog!