Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Review: Douglas Coupland's "Worst.Person.Ever"

I really really cannot decide whether I like this book or not. First I heard about it when John Niven put a foul quote of it on Twitter, and I was excited! Niven’s made me love the puerile hilarious antihero. It was just a bit odd coming from Coupland... the thoughtful, deep, “what’s it all mean and why are we here” author I had ranked up there with Hermann Hesse, the man who’s induced epiphanies in me with Generation X, Life after God and Girlfriend in a Coma.
It didn’t help that I read this right after Niven’s Straight White Male, and it felt like Coupland had looked over his shoulder and decided he wanted to write something like that himself ("I can do funny! Look! Look!") and just did not manage to be as funny as that. But Coupland’s my hero, so I put it down, read a few different books to cleanse my literary palate off the Niven taste and then gave it another shot.

And yes, I enjoyed it quite a bit more. It’s much more along the lines of JPod and All Families are Psychotic, just a lot more foulmouthed, (perhaps a bit too) full of creatively disgusting phrases which would be funnier if the book hadn’t been drenched in it – it just felt a wee bit like Coupland, like a dorky school boy trying to fit in with the bad guys, tried too hard. The bit that really annoyed me the most was the first chapter: the love-hate banter/battle of the words between the protagonist and his vile ex-wife is just a bit too full of pretentious witticisms, though that might just be characterisation and satire of the TV industry. Once I moved past that, the book, with some concessions, was actually quite enjoyable. 

Mind, I never warmed to Raymond Gunt (though that name – genius?) in the way I love-hated Stelfox in Niven’s Kill your Friends. Making an antihero likeable despite his awfulness is a hard trick to pull off. But Gunt wasn’t even that terrible, despite his raging racism, sexism, homophobia and gleeful dislike and disrespect of everyone but him. He was just a bit of a d**k who had it coming to him, a cringey wannabe, failing at everything to the delight of the reader (cold pity is not sympathy!) while Neal, a homeless guy he enslaves as his personal assistant, is the one bagging the first class flights/ladies/food/champagne chats with Cameron Diaz. Love Neal! Neal is a legend, and the true hero of the story, a loyal, happy-go-lucky friend Gunt really doesn’t deserve.

So they take a trip to a remote island to do camera work for a reality TV show, and it all becomes a massive trip into Absurdistan. If you enjoy insane absurdity, like them accidentally starting nuclear war and Gunt escaping homeland security by means of a macadamia nut, and you’re willing to look past a few irritations, then you will quite love this. I know it’s meant to be satire, but it’s all a bit too grotesque to work that way... rather just enjoy it for its plain insanity. It’s not subtle, it’s downright juvenile in places, but it holds quite a few laughs. I looked up by the end of it and thought “WTF did I just read?”, but not without a crooked grin.

If this is your first Coupland  – please don’t give up on him. Read his older stuff to get a real feel for him, because this is by far not representative of what he is capable of.

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