Thursday, November 21st, 2002
All Families Are Psychotic
I’ve always been lukewarm on Douglas Coupland. On one hand, I feel like it’s almost my patriotic duty to support him, and I do find a fair bit of merit and wit in his work (I’ve read ‘Generation X’, ‘Life After God’, ‘Shampoo Planet’ and ‘Miss Wyoming’ before this one, if you need the establish credibility), but as a writer he frustrates me. I found the characters in his earlier work to be woefully one-dimensional, like they weren’t so much actual people as thinly-constructed charicatures to act as vessels for Coupland’s monologues. And therein laid the problem – all the characters sounded like the same person. They might have had various individual quirks or traits assigned the them (this one has a hat! this one has an accent!) but they were all Coupland.
The last novel of his I read was ‘Miss Wyoming’, and I admit I was pleasantly surprised by the strides he’d made as a writer. While the narrative itself was fairly forgettable (I don’t really remember what it was about), at least it was better written. So after going to see him speak at the International Festival Of Authors, I came away even more impressed by the man and was eager to read his latest, ‘All Families Are Psychotic’. Mark kindly lent me his autographed-by-Doug copy, which I finished today. And once again, my feelings are mixed.
On a superficial level, I enjoyed it. It was a pretty quick read and there were a number of funny scenes, but I can’t help but feel disappointed. Disappointed because I perceive Coupland as having taken a bit of a step back as a writer. Within the first few chapters, he’s already established the Drummond family as such an over-the-top, unbelievably dysfunctional cast of characters that they were, from the get go, impossible for me to relate to. Maybe that was Coupland’s intent, to create as motley a crew as possible, but I think by doing so he does the rest of the book a disservice. He digs a credibility hole for himself early on, and I suppose it’s commendable that he manages do dig himself out of it by book’s end, but imagine how good it could have been if he hadn’t handicapped himself like that. It’s like trying to elicit real sympathy for Wile. E. Coyote – maybe if he didn’t do so many danged stupid things you might feel bad for him.
I will probably come back and clarify this review a little later, it’s not sounding quite as I’d like.
np – Elf Power / A Dream In Sound