Douglas Coupland’s Self-Diagnosis

by Jessica Brodeur

After having read several of Douglas Coupland’s works, and having met him in person, I had decided that “Doug” -as he calls himself- was a freak. I had always dismissed the works as stories with odd characters set in places I already knew and plots that seemed stuck in a black hole of cultural criticisms and cliches. Picking up JPod was not only annoying, but slightly painful to my predetermined inner Coupland-hater.

 

The beginning was exactly what I expected: a weird mesh of characters that would typically be described as ”nerds” or, as diagnosed later on in the amazingly self-aware book, people suffering from varying degrees of autism – which I was convinced was a veiled self-diagnosis of Coupland himself. These JPodders all work together in a video game developing company in Vancouver, where they waste time together while simultaneously wasting the readers time with tangents of irrelevant conversation and behaviour. Coupland kicks off the book with plenty of self references, pages upon pages of literary spam and obscure references that make each section feel more like an obstacle course than a novel, and a storyline in which things keep happening, but somehow the story doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. Ethan Jarlewski, who’s lens the reader sees through for the majority of the book, has a morally-challenged family that faces several small crises ranging from having to dispose of a dead body to finding a temporary transition space for a truck-load of human traffic. I found myself pleased at how accurate my prejudice was of Coupland and his writing style, until about half way through the brick of a book. Ethan takes on a trip to China to search for a man who has gone missing – Steve- to whom Ethan is affiliated with both through work and Steve’s inappropriate relationship with Ethan’s mother. Somehow the setting, the arbitrary events, and all of the bits had some together to build suspense for the first time in the book (and ever in Coupland’s works that I had read). The unexpected turn of events brought in new landscapes and narration that, as the reader, I appreciated – a solid block of action and climax. I wanted to go on, I cared about what would happen to Ethan, Steve, Coupland’s own character that he had implanted into the piece of fiction, and the rest of the JPod.

 

To anyone with a short attention span, anyone who considers them-self a non-traditionalist, or anyone who is just looking for read that offers a huge variety of style and an easy plot to follow, I would recommend this book. At it’s most serious, this book can be taken as an examination of culture and lifestyle. Coupland asks questions and makes accusations to make the reader think and evaluate them-self, and somehow keeps these opinions embedded in the wild characters.

 

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