Welcome to the world of JPod!

by karmill

The novel JPod, by Douglas Coupland, is set in Vancouver, and centers around EthanJarlewski, his co-workers and other characters in his sphere of being. Ethan and his 5 co-workers, coincidentally all with a last name beginning with J, work at a large game design company, and have been grouped together in a cubicle arrangement called JPod. The story is mainly told from Ethan’s point of view, and follows his interactions with his co-workers, his mother who operates a marijuana grow-op from her home in the British Properties, his father who is a movie extra and whose passion is ballroom dancing, his real estate agent brother, a shady Asian businessman, and his boss. The action bounces from JPod and the video game they are developing, the games they play amongst themselves to avoid boredom, Ethan’s mother’s business problems, his father’s affair and resulting problems, a trip to China to rescue his kidnapped boss, his budding relationship with his co-worker Kaitlin, and eventually the unusual resolution and conclusion which includes a surprise character.
When a reader first opens the cover of the book, he finds that there is a narrative printed on the inside of the cover and continuing onto the facing page. The usual title page and publishing information does not appear until 2 pages later, and then printed sideways on the page. Also, scattered apparently randomly throughout the book, the reader will find pages which have large blank spaces and bold written characters and words, pages with the first 100,000 digits of pi, one intentionally blank, and various other pages which look different. Coupland uses this defamiliarization technique to get the reader to see things from a different perspective, to draw attention to what is usually ignored. Coupland sets the story in Vancouver, which is made obvious by allusions to places, events, directions, landmarks and things related to and relevant to Vancouverites. Coupland describes Ethan driving from the campus where he works to his parents’ home in the British Properties by taking two left turns and two right turns, which is correct if one knows where the campus is. Coupland discusses Chinatown, a drive out to Abbotsford, grow-ops and the heavy influence of Asian business and culture, all of which are very much Vancouver. Coupland also includes himself in the novel as a character, which is referred to by and interacts with all of the others.
When I read JPod, I found the blank or random word pages, the author’s invitation to play a game along with JPod (i.e. Find the non-regulation three-letter word in the list of allowable Scrabble three-letter words.) to be a distraction from the story, and I wanted to get on with the plot. I can see that Coupland wants to emphasize a different way to see things, but I felt that this method was somewhat juvenile, like he was trying to show how clever he is. However, all in all, I enjoyed my trip into the fantastical world of JPod.

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