Here's Where the Strings Come In

Novelist Douglas Coupland's high lonesome

Coupland's narrators tend to be instantly agreeable company—from Andy and his tale-telling cohort in Generation X to the coder Daniel in 1995's Microserfs (one of whose dedicatees is, curiously, an "Elizabeth Dunn") and even the central voices of the traumatized Jason and Heather in Hey Nostradamus! We take Liz at face value, sympathizing with her plight, listening as she passes judgment on co-workers, family members—nearly everyone save her son. But there's something very strange about the book's second part, in which we see Liz (in the current day) tying up loose ends in a brisk, even shorthand way. After she's contacted in the middle of the night by a detective in Vienna, the big puzzle piece in her life—the identity of Jeremy's father, who impregnated Liz one drunken night during a high school Latin-class trip to Rome—snaps into place. She causes a major international airport to shut down, becoming a minor post-9-11 celebrity. She finds herself with the handsomest man in Europe.

It's all giddy but a bit unreal. Then it dawns on the reader that Vienna is probably significant—Vienna, where Freud "discovered" the subconscious, as the Viennese detective points out. Here the reader might fiddle with her iPod until "Eleanor Rigby" comes on, and ponder that song's second line: Lives in a dream. Also check out the floating bed on the cover. Coupland, no stranger to loneliness and no sucker for the easy truisms of solitude lit, would hardly give his readers the same old bill of goods.


Douglas Coupland reads at Barnes & Noble Union Square on Tuesday, January 25. See the Short List.

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