Jack Kerouac, as Sal Paradise once said: "I like too many things and get all confused and hung-up running from one falling star to another till i drop. This is the night, what it does to you. I had nothing to offer anybody except my own confusion." And I think that's a rather apt description of my blog over the years, and perhaps the most perfect description of me in general that I've ever read. So that's what this blog is, a collection of the falling stars that are beckoning me at any time.

27 June 2006

JPod, the review

There are few things sadder than an 'exciting, original voice in fiction' finally writing enough novels for one to realise that they really only had one, perhaps two at the most, great novels in them.

You'd think I'd learn my lesson for unbridled enthusiasm of writers whose first novels explode with unique content and form, after all I've already suffered painful disillusionments with Irvine Welsh and Chuck Palahniuk, but old habits die hard and now I can add Douglas Coupland to the list of writers whose exciting, original voices have become tired and boring because their catalog becomes essentially just one novel over and over in an ever diminishing level of quality.

Perhaps I'm too hard on the dramatically different, holding it up to a standard that the conventional never has to achieve because it all sounded the same to begin with. I understand that originality of voice and vision doesn't mean a writer will be original from himself novel after novel, at least not in terms of style, but really, is it too much to ask for something new in terms of character? I think not.

Coupland's new novel, JPod, is essentially just Microserfs without the heart, originality or plausibility. Set in the world of videogame design instead of Microsoft and full of ridiculously stupid subplots, Jpod mistakes self-conscious farce for cleverness and self-referential arrogant twaddle for slyly acknowledging his own place in the culture he satirises.

The main character, his fellow programmers and other work related characters are well drawn and believable, but, then, he's been writing the same characters since Generation X hasn't he? A mildly eccentric, pop culture obsessed bunch of 20-somethings you wish here your friends with their oh-so-irreverent hijinx and culture dropping, but here these characters aren't authentic, they're the ones who've read every Coupland novel and wanted to be friends with those characters so badly, you're pretty sure that all of their wacky hijinx comes from a conscious decision to act like Coupland characters and he makes sure they mention him and his previous books so many times you can't forget. It's like a 400 page advertisement for his older, better novels. He even goes so far as to make himself a character in the novel.

It's not that the book is unreadable, quite the opposite, despite every scene and plot point seeming conspicuously written only to set up Coupland making fun of a buzzword or cultural phenomena (a trip to China seems to exist only so we could read that the original strain of SARS is now called SARS Classic and that China puts human rights victims who've made it big on CNN to work in sweat shops so they can charge Americans exorbitant prices on goods because they've been assembled by the Tiananmen Square tank guy)

The read is quick and you laugh along the way, but at the end you can't help but feel cheated. After all, you already own Microserfs did you really need another book about tech geeks in crap jobs they eventually quit to be mega-successful in the end, have dysfunctional families and quirky lives, especially one that's not remotely as well-written?

It all seems spelled out for you in the final chapter; this is just a contractual obligation and it's easier to write a pale imitation of a well-liked novel than it is to come up with something better or different. Like the abysmally awful pop albums made yearly to get musicians out of contracts, Jpod will be snapped up eagerly by legions of Coupland fans and, except for the few who have to have every novel for their collection, will grace the shelves of your local used book shop as quickly as Mariah Carey albums hit the overstock dollar bins at CD TradingPost.

Maybe for his next novel, Coupland can fictionalise Welsh and Palahniuk and skewer the publishing world where cult novelists puke out subpar novels and laugh off literary backlash at the ATM where they check their balances.

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