And the thing with The Gum Thief is that Coupland has done everything already.
* Multiple Perspectives (e.g. Hey Nostrodamus)
* Preoccupation with a looming apocalypse (e.g. Life After God)
* An essentially depressing narrative (e.g. Eleanor Rigby)
* All characters possessing the ability to riff on the flotsam of modern life (e.g. every book Douglas Coupland has ever written).
Hey, don’t get me wrong, I like Douglas Coupland. His books took me by the scruff of the neck when I was a teenager and said, “Read more.” Actually, I think they said, “Books can be hip and contemporary, too,” and the “Read more,” was implied.
And I will no doubt read whatever he delivers next.
The only thing that’s really new here is the fact the novel is entirely epistolary (the instalments of the novel within the novel, Glove Pond, function in the same way as letters, both for the real reader and Bethany and DeeDee, the readers in the novel).
In the first twenty pages we read journal entries by Roger, a forty-something aisles associate at a Staples superstore; Roger-pretending-to-be-Bethany, a twenty-something colleague still clinging to her goth phase; and the real Bethany, who finds Roger’s journal and is disturbed and intrigued enough by its contents to reply.
This is the best part of the book. I was happy to suspend my disbelief at the premise (who writes journal entries with long swathes of dialogue?), and the riffs on identity, cloning, sorrow were fine with the promise of a story on the horizon.
Soon, Roger and Bethany and Roger’s schlocky novel Glove Pond are not enough to sustain this epistolary novel, so Bethany’s mother works her way into the letter-writing guild, along with Roger’s ex-wife, his daughter (only briefly), and even a marginal Staples worker (her letters aren’t addressed to any of the main characters so they shouldn’t really be allowed into the book…). And even then, the novel continues to wither away.
The problem with the form Coupland chose to tell this tale of “love and looming apocalypse in the aisles of an office-supply superstore” (from the back cover of the
So there it is. The only really new aspect of the book is its fatal flaw. That is, if we want to treat this as a novel. If we read it for riffs on McJobs and references to 11pm eBay spending sprees, it’s fine.