Douglas Coupland, Player One

Admittedly, it was maybe a poor choice for my trip across the continent last week, passing through four airports each way, to take with me Douglas Coupland's novel Player One: What Is to Become of Us: A Novel in Five Hours (from the CBC's Massey Lectures, the first novel in its 50-year history). Fortunately, no security personnel asked about it or recognized that much of my 26 hours of travel time would be spent in the company of five people trapped in an airport hotel's martini lounge during a global crisis, possibly even the apocalypse.

"Why no, officer: I didn't know that's what it was about. A conference about literature and environmentalism? Yes, I was just at one of those. Plenty of talk there about apocalypse and fear, yes, right you are. Why do you ask? I should go in which room, then?"

I've reviewed Coupland before on this blog, of course: Generation A, Girlfriend in a Coma, The Gum Thief, and JPod. Something of a fan am I, in other words, but this is a different sort of text. It's a novel, sure, but it was written for delivery from a podium to live audience (though edited afterwards); it was written for a specific audience (CBC listeners); and it was written for a particular prompt, rather than simply out of "inspiration" (and I don't use scare quotes very often). What would come of the usual Couplandia whatnot, with these factors in play?

If you've ever seen Coupland in an interview (and you should, especially a strange one), you won't be surprised to hear me opine that there may be nothing that'd ever prevent Doug from achieving Couplandia. If you've enjoyed anything Coupland's ever done, including his wonderful book Terry (about Terry Fox, about whom you should know if you don't know him already), then you'll enjoy this one. If you've never read Coupland, or never enjoyed him, I think there's something here for you as well, more than there often is with this idiosyncratic and ubiquitous artist.

The characters are recognizable in type from Coupland's other novels, especially in their only partly self-aware internal monologues that I find so valuable in his works, and also from my circle of broad acquaintance. I'm troubled somewhat, mind you, by the representation of Rachel, whose assorted complex conditions had me thinking constantly of the vulnerabilities discussed in Jean Vanier's Becoming Human. I know too many people with them, including too many young children, for me to overlook the use of disabilities simply in order to forward a plot; this is the narrative element that I'm the least sure about, because otherwise I think the characterization is both successful and functionally useful. All of them are damaged, in different ways, mostly as results of distinctly contemporary (postmodern?) issues or conditions. Addiction, loss of faith, the loneliness of crowds: people suffer every day, and Coupland has a real talent for showing us what middle-class suffering looks like.

But in an ASLE context, which was the conference that took me across the continent, ashamedly burning oil the whole way, it's important to note that the apocalypse that traps our characters together in an airport hotel's martini lounge is a specifically environmental one, an apocalypse we are likely to suffer through ourselves sooner than we would like.

You can find detailed reviews and commentaries in assorted places online, so I'm not going to say more about the plot, but Coupland hitches a ride on my hobby horse with this one: community is our only chance. Not a happy novel, but apocalypse turns out to be survivable, mostly, at least for the short term, and for now, we've got to keep telling stories about it so we can have a narrative to follow once it arrives in our lives. I'm not prepared to let Cormac McCarthy's The Road be the narrative I'm looking forward to.


Anonymous said…
Coupland + apocalypse--thanks for blogging about this book! Coupland's wonderful sad, paranoid people remind a little of Haruki Murakami's. Have you read any of HM's novels? The Windup Bird Chronicle is good.


Popular Posts