Girlfriend in a Coma - Douglas Coupland
Read: April 2005
Capsule: Karen McNeil starts as a typical bored high schooler, giggling with girlfriends, exasperating boys, and experimenting with sex. When she tells her high school senior boyfriend that she will go away for a very long time -- just after they lose their virginities to each other -- he thinks it's just some female mindfuck -- the title of the book should tell you that she ends up being right, only she doesn't go away so much as to sleep. She gives birth while in a coma, and the father (and narrator of the story), Richard, allows the baby's grandparents to raise her. For a time, things are pretty bleak, with Richard spiraling into alcoholism and their friends getting pulled into drug abuse, until Karen re-awakens more than ten years later. After that, the story gets, well, weird. That she shows no cerebral signs of damage is the least odd of the remaining plot points, which I won't spoil here.
Trade Paperback: 240 pages
Strangely enough, this was my first foray into Douglas Coupland's novel-length work. No, I've never read Generation X or Microserfs, both of which aren't merely career-defining; they're era-defining. Along with William Gibson, Coupland has genrified, vocabularised and otherwise help shape the public view of the information age. Like Joseph Heller (Catch-22) and Gibson (cyberspace), Coupland has done something few writers can boast: create vocabulary that has become regular usage within his lifetime.
I picked this copy of Girlfriend in a Coma up for $5 at a used book store on Granville Street, and absolutely devoured it. It's really three novels in one, but all three parts are examples of consummate storytelling. The first part, literally: in setting up the story, we meet Richard and Karen, two high school sweethearts who have their first sexual experience in a snowbank while night-skiing on Grouse Mountain. The characters are utterly real (and all-too familiar): the narrator is an awkward, inward teen who in lieu of his myriad emotions, tends to grunt at his bright, talkative girlfriend. He, like most teenaged guys -- hell, like most guys -- is completely mystified as to why a beautiful, vivacious woman like Karen would have anything to do with him.
She tells him that she has had strange dreams of late, and that dark times, they are a-comin'. By graduation, she is both pregnant and -- cue the title -- in a coma. The other two parts of the book are spent taking shots at human nature. Just about everyone in the book squanders their opportunities: whether hand-picked for model shoots around the world or doomed for a life of Joe jobs in North Vancouver, every one of Karen's friends end up hooked on drugs or booze. The parents are self-absorbed and thus clueless, and nobody is saved either by the child Megan or by the awakening of skeletal Karen.
Her return bodes well for Richard personally, but bad for the world; she has come back to witness the end of the world. There are spirits, rains of fire, lootings and death without rhyme or reason. It's a bizarre story, but an enjoyable one -- I'll definitely read more Coupland when the chance permits, and recommend that anyone into contemporary literature give him a gander.