Entertainment & the Arts: Friday, June 09, 2006

“JPod” by Douglas Coupland

By Mark Lindquist
Special to The Seattle Times

“I think people in the year 2020 are going to be nostalgic for the sensation of cluelessness.”

“I’ve come to the conclusion that documents are thirty-four percent more boring when presented in the Courier font.”

“If you’re an incredibly famous rich person who does more in one day than I do in a month, does your perception of time’s passing go slower or faster than it does for me?”

Douglas Coupland’s latest book, “JPod,” is billed as a novel, and it does resemble a novel in some ways — words, characters, dramatic incidents — but it is more precise to say this is a collection of random thoughts and observations, ironic dialogue, word games and number puzzles.

Coupland has returned to the geeky techie culture he explored in his 1995 success “Microserfs,” but with even less of a story line and less emotional engagement. Given the book’s form, it seems pointless to relate the plot. Suffice it to say that the narrator Ethan Jarlewski and five co-workers at a Vancouver, B.C., video-game-design company are subverting the game they are charged with creating.

Ethan describes his colleagues in “Living Cartoon Profiles.” None of the characters are fully fleshed out, and this appears to be intentional. As one of them says, “You feel chilled because you have no character. You’re a depressing assemblage of pop-culture influences and cancelled emotions, driven by the sputtering engine of only the most banal form of capitalism. You spend your life feeling as if you’re perpetually obsolete — whether it’s labour market obsolescence or cultural unhipness.”

Except in instances such as these when Coupland speechifies through his characters, or when he is portraying someone over 30, his dialogue is pitch-perfect. He knows his main subjects. In his 40s and well-established, Coupland still best understands twentysomethings drifting in oceans of information. However, he remains detached from their issues and, as a result, so does the reader.

There are many moments of brilliance in these pages, such as Coupland’s analysis of “micro-autism” in both the general population and the computer industry. There are also some missteps, such as when he takes a tip from the postmodern how-to book and casts Douglas Coupland in a major supporting role.

” ‘Oh, God,’ ” the book begins, warning us, ” ‘I feel like a refugee from a Douglas Coupland novel.’ ”

Though fans of “Microserfs” and “Generation X” should enjoy Coupland’s latest musings and mischief, he will not win many converts with this one.


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