Douglas Coupland, Worst. Person. Ever

American cover
I'm writing this review of Douglas Coupland's Worst. Person. Ever. shortly after a young man in California killed six people and wounded more than a dozen more, largely because young women wouldn't have sex with him: today, I'm having a harder time remembering why I kept laughing while reading this novel.

Don't get me wrong, I think that Lucy Ellmann's scathing review in the Guardian was tone-deaf and extreme ("It's hard not to feel revulsion for everything while reading this book--certainly the human body, sex, thoughts, animals, and life itself"), but then Ellmann's recent novel Mimi has been insulted in similar terms, and Coupland's narrator Raymond Gunt is himself tone-deaf and extreme. (After all, that's why Gunt keeps getting attacked, arrested, infected, sodomised….) By reading Worst. Person. Ever. without making room for satire or irony, Lucy Ellmann initiates something like a death spiral of loathing that Coupland managed to intensify by tweeting about her review … as well as by tweeting a link to a harsh review of Ellmann's own novel, in which she was blamed for many of the same things she was blaming him for.

For his part, Coupland told NPR that with Worst. Person. Ever., he had finally written "something that, you know, might actually damage a person's soul if they read it."

But I'm off track. Not a fun review to write, obviously, or I'd just write the damned thing.

Canadian cover
During Worst. Person. Ever., more than one character calls Raymond Gunt exactly that, the Worst. Person. Ever., and he deserves it. He's a deeply, deeply offensive man, with more prejudices than a cactus has spines and yet apparently ignorant of them, living in a social circle of people who understand him and whose prejudices rival his own. If Cards Against Humanity came in novel form, this would be it: filthy, disgusting, foul-mouthed, vile, entirely Couplandian, and mostly funny.

The thing is, a lot of the novel's energy comes from its being an inside joke that's way too intense for me today, with the flood of #YesAllWomen tweets building on the California murders. Ray and his friends are appalling human beings that shouldn't be alive, which is fine because they're only characters in a book, so they're not real and not alive: what are people so fussed about, seriously? Besides, since we're all appalled and disgusted anyway, we're not all versions of Ray, so really the racist, coprophilic, misogynistic excesses of Worst. Person. Ever. confirm our liberal feminist ideologies by triggering our disgust -- yay liberalism, yay feminism, as Ray might put it, right before shitting all over something that might once have been lovely.

If you've ever enjoyed playing Cards Against Humanity, or haven't played but could imagine enjoying it, then you're perfectly capable of enjoying Worst. Person. Ever.. The novel's ending, as is usual with Coupland, induces a bit of eye-rolling, and the characters are a little more cartoony even than they usually are in his novels, but really everything depends on whether you can read corrosive misogyny for laffs: on whether it's acceptable just to be better than the characters of the novel you're reading.

Today, after what Elliot Rodger seems to have done in Isla Vista, California, presumably with a more complicated backstory than we're all getting so far, I'm not going to mind if you refuse to make an effort to find laffs in misogyny.

(You want an actual review of the novel? Here's a thoughtful positive one; here's a thoughtful negative one. It's a good novel, provocative in good ways but reflecting a hateful world that you just might mistake for hateful characters.)


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