Miss Wyoming

“The road is over, John-O. It never even was. You’re thinking like a kid behind a Starbucks counter sneaking looks at his Kerouac paperback and writing ‘That’s so true!’ in the margins.”

And this I humbling because I was a kid behind a Purdy’s Chocolates counter sneaking looks at my Douglas Coupland paperback and writing ‘That’s so true!’ in the margins. I got off the train quickly, though – in 2000 I read Generation X and in 2001 Life After God and then in 2002 Microserfs and then I lost the plot. The conventional wisdom then was that Coupland had been brilliant at the start of the decade but fell into diminishing returns – Microserfs then Girlfriend in a Coma then Miss Wyoming and then it was all awful.  This is what I understood before reading anything he’d ever written. But he kept writing novels after novels and seems to claim some post-cool omnipresence now – Rick Mercer with an edge? Are the same people that read Generation X reading Generation A? Because my sense, wholly unfounded and possibly very wrong, is that everyone who read Generation X at the time or at least in the 1990s stopped reading his books after Miss Wyoming.

I guess I first wanted to read Douglas Coupland because he loves my favourite band too and in fact wrote the liner notes to Good Humor in 1998 – “And so we fall into a trance and a dream of love. The sounds of the city are the sounds that bring to us news of love and adventure. And this is the sound of Saint Etienne – a sound that is both utterly metropolitan and effortlessly clean. It is the sound of love without blame, and hope without conditions.” And all my cool friends had read him.

I bought Life After God for my sister and she was happy; she’d actually just read one of his recent novels, maybe Eleanor Rigby or jPod. But she hadn’t read the ‘classics,’ the epochal early works. And every store has copies of Hey Nostradamus! for $9 used but wow, I really can’t imagine a time where I might end up reading that book.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Miss Wyoming

  1. reneethewriter

    I have never read nor ever plan to read this iconic Vancouver writer–not sure why – something to do with that cool factor. The liner note snippet is lovely; the other excerpts are not. The prose feels to me as if from another tribe, and that other country, the literature of the 1990’s.

  2. Greg

    Derek, I’ve enjoyed reading Coupland over the years and have read all of his novels (my mom took the hint in 1992 when I asked for Gen X for Christmas, and she’s been keeping me stocked with his latest book ever since). To give my 2 cents worth, I can’t say that Generation A marks a significant departure from his previous work, but I’m only a third of the way through so will reserve further comment.

    Coupland’s been consistent in his search for the ever new way to package his message that individual narrative coherence is tough to achieve in a world that just doesn’t lend itself that that end.

    I’m not sure I agree that we have a need to be able to tell a story out of our lives for it to have meaning, but every one of the novels touches on this theme.

    By the way, I have a pretty low tolerance for hipster navel gazing, but have never cast Coupland in that way, even if his dust jackets still boast that he was born in West Germany :). Odd for a guy who has a strong sense of attachment to the North Shore.

  3. Renee, while I’d be interested in yr take in the first two I listed I really can’t argue for moving Douglas Coupland up your reading list. Glad to hear you like the liner note, though; it might be the best thing he’s ever written at least for my taste. The ‘cool factor’ thing is interesting because I think it isn’t really his fault; anyone tagged as ‘the voice of a generation’ rarely benefits in the long run. His early novels are probably not as good as they were praised to be and his recent run is probably not as bad. But there is an interesting thing: according to the Wikipedia entry on ‘Miss Wyoming’ he actually changed the way he wrote novels in 1999-2000.

    Greg, thanks for the comment. I am curious – as someone who has read all this books, do you see any disconnect between pre- and post-‘Miss Wyoming’? is there any discernible shift in the novels or was it all perception and the ‘cool factor’?

    The question of life-as-narrative is interesting too because of how many memoirs I have been reading over the past year and my own drive to track a narrative in my own life. I didn’t see it as a sincere theme in ‘Miss Wyoming,’ though, but that’s probably just because I found the hyperactivity of the prose hard to look past. More than anything, ‘Miss Wyoming’ read as as one of the little stories that the characters in ‘Generation X’ tell each other, inflated to 300 pgs.

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