Coupland caught my attention with the fabulous microserfs, so when I noticed that he was also the author of this novel about the periodic disappearing acts of a childhood beauty pageant queen and a Hollywood blockbuster producer, it was enough to get me reading. Coupland writes with a modern, cynical, quick-and-snarky style which lends itself well to this slightly absurd story. The book is filled with pop-culture consciousness, giving us behind-the-scenes stories of beauty pageants, sitcom and movie production, and the rock star lifestyle. If the details are fictional, they're also as sordid as we could hope for in a real-world "where are they now" expose on child stars and one-hit-wonders.
Behind the light fun, Coupland tells the story of Susan the child star and John the possibly washed-up producer. John approaches Susan at a restaurant because he has had a vision of her and believes it is their destiny to meet. Despite her cynicism, Susan spends some time with him, they establish a positive connection. That night, Susan disappears. From there, the story continues in alternations of flashbacks showing how Susan and John became the wandering people they are, and present day scenes in which John employs the services of a movie store clerk obsessed with Susan-as-actress and his government conspiracy girlfriend to track Susan down.
What this book lacks in believability it makes up for in fun. Most of the flashbacks are set in the 1980's, a gimmick for which I admit I am a sucker. I didn't relate to the characters at all, but they were so unusual, and the plot was so fast paced that I kept reading out of curiosity. The writing is overdramatic but amusing, if you like passages like:
"John listened in and ached to have somebody to discuss rugs and raccoons with. He felt intact but worthless, like a chocolate rabbit selling for 75 percent off the month after Easter. But it went beyond that, too. He felt contaminated, that his blood stream carried microscopic loneliness viruses, like miniscule fish hooks, just waiting to inflect somebody dumb enough to attempt intimacy with him.
His mind wandered. There had to be hope - and there was. He remembered the woman in his hospital vision had made him feel that somewhere on the alien Death Star of his heart lay a small, vulnerable entry point into which he could deploy a rocket, blow himself up and rebuild from the shards that remained."
This isn't a book to be taken too seriously, and I lost sympathy for the characters if I let myself think about their situations too much (they are, after all, set-for-life celebrities suffering from emptiness-of-life angst). But I enjoyed reading this book and watching the odd plotlines play out and merge together. I give it a moderate '+', but definitely give microserfs a try before bothering with this one.
Review written July 2002.
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