By Douglas Coupland
I don't even like Douglas Coupland!
I find he tries way too hard to the the hip, millennial author missing from the Canadian literary scene with his odd little novels about vapid Gen Xers finding their purpose in life. Yet somehow I have managed to read even of his fourteen novels to date. That's half of his entire fiction bibliography. How in the hell has this happened? How have I managed to read so much from an author I like so little? Well, I have a theory. Stick around and shake your head in wonder (or shake it in disbelief, either way, stick around)...
If I was to compare Canadian literature to Canadian pop music it would go something like this:
The heavyweights of Canadian literature (Canlit) are akin to the heavyweights of Canadian pop: The Tragically Hip (Mordecai Richler), Neil Young (Robertson Davies), The Guess Who (Farley Mowat), Joni Mitchell (Margaret Atwood), Leonard Cohen (Leonard Cohen). They are the artists who, love them or hate them, have transcended their work and have become icons unto themselves (well, in Canada, at least).
Then there is a much larger group artists who, although quite good, have yet to achieve the status of true legend. Sloan (Carol Shields), Blue Rodeo (Elizabeth Hay), Loverboy (Guy Vanderhaege). It's all over the map, but there's a lot of good in there. You see where I'm going with this, right?
There is also a nice little group of alternative/experimental artists that populate the fringe. Music artists in this genre include Jane Siberry, The Headstones, The Inbreds and such. Great performers if you are into those sorts of eccentricities. For me, this is equivalent to everything published by House of Anansi Press.
And then there is Douglas Coupland. Too mainstream to fall in with the eccentrics, Been around too long to fall in with the not-quite-legends and simply too crappy to rub noses with the legends. Ladies and gentlemen, Douglas Coupland is the literary equivalent of Rush!
Hear me out.
Nobody in Canada likes Rush. Not immediately, anyway. Rush is too strange, too difficult to listen to. The complicated rhythms. The odd time signatures. The pseudo-intellectual lyrics. The high-pitched wail of Geddy Lee. Rush is the bane of every kid in the backseat of a car who has no control over the radio station. A few bars into Subdivisions and your ears are bleeding and you wish you'd hurry up and get to the dentist already! Anything is better than another go round of that chorus!
As any Canadian knows, Rush is always on the radio. Due to CanCon regulations (does CanCon still exist?) 30% of all product on Canadian television and radio must be Canadian in origin (Canadian Content). In the late 70s and early 80s (when there was still precious few Canadian acts worth listening to) that meant a lot of Neil Young. A lot of The Guess Who and a lot of Rush. They really were the only three bands. They got a lot of airplay.
But Rush never fit the mold of, well, anything. And you hated them for it. They weren't quite metal, not quite rock and definitely not cool. You could never get away with wearing a Rush T-shirt to school, no matter how many skulls it has on it. But they were always on the radio, so somebody out there must like them, right? Who knows. Eventually, after years of repeatedly listening to Tom Sawyer and Limelight via Canadian media outlets, most citizens make their peace with Rush and accept them as part of the cultural landscape, but never quite accept them as canon. Our relationship with Rush has been a rocky one to say the least.
As for those people who love Rush, well, that's a different blogpost altogether.
The comparison to Rush, for me, explains the mysterious appeal of Douglas Coupland. He does not fit the mold of Canadian writer. What's a Canadian writer, you ask? Well, you can find examples of the sorts of books they write here and here. It's refreshing that Coupland wants to be different and he should be encouraged to break the cultural death grip other Canadian writers have placed on fiction in Canada. It's just that his quirky, gimmicky nonsense gets really old, really quick. Nobody actually likes Douglas Coupland, he's just always there. and just being there in canada is often enough to maintain a career.
I always got the impression that Coupland was a great fan of Tom Robbins and imagines himself to be a Northern interpretation of his style. If so, he does it with a lot less flare and imagination. Coupland continues to create drab, uninteresting characters living out impossibly outrageous plots. I mean Girlfriend in a Coma? Jeez! What a club-you-over-the-head metaphor for environmental degradation. Yeesh!
Anyway, Eleanor Rigby is just more of the same bullshit Coupland has been publishing for going on two decades. Fine. Good for you Mr. Coupland. I support your right to publish this stuff and wish you the best of luck and no ill will. The same feelings I have toward Geddy and the boys. I'll even buy you a beer next time I'm in Vancouver as well. We'll sit down and compare notes on Canadian literature and beyond. I imagine, if nothing else, you have a lot of interesting stories. Maybe then you can explain how you have duped me into reading half your novels.
Here's to the end of CanCon!