I spent this Sunday afternoon being lazy and finishing Douglas Coupland's 'Miss Wyoming'. As the story played out and about 50 pages to it's conclusion a passage about life struck me,
".... when you grow up these days, you're told you're going to have four or five different careers during your lifetime. But what they don't tell you is that you're also going to be four or five different people along the way. In five years I won't be me anymore. I'll be some new [person] .... Probably wiser and more corrupt....using words like 'cassoulet' or 'sublime.' ... I have to do [things] now---act quickly, I mean---because the current version of me is ebbing away. We're all ebbing away. All of us. I'm already looking backward. I'm already looking back at that [person] that's saying these words."
After finishing the book, I was pulled back to this passage reading it over again ...understanding the meaning even more clearly than the first time. Realizing that at almost 35 years old, I have had the four or five different careers already. The person I am today is COMPLETELY not the person I was just five months ago --- especially pre-Lap Band.
How does one 'mark' that time and place when they do become someone different. Is it a matter of getting better with time? ... or is it life's experiences that change us into someone different?
The passage has left me wondering what happens when we have already been 'five different people along the way'? ... and how do others my age track the moments in their lives when they became someone different, when did they realize it? ... did others notice? ... do they see themselves as a better person for the change ... or worse? ... are there ceremonies or announcements to send?
I hope others will feel comfortable sharing their thoughts on Coupland's passage. ...and if they also have some of the same questions or do they have the answers?
Douglas Copeland is apparently something of a cult writer and it is possible that I should have started my acquaintanceship with his opus from another book - like `Girlfriend in a Coma` or `Microserfs`. Nevertheless it was `Miss Wyoming` that I read recently and I have to say that it left me somehow unimpressed. I can`t say I didn`t enjoy it - it was a decent read by all means and I liked playing with it. But it wasn`t `my` book and neither it was good enough to leave me in awe despite not moving any strings in my heart. But I guess I should start justifying my judgements.
The novel has two main protagonists: John Johnson, a 37 year old (but with mental age of an immature 23 in my humble opinion) successful Hollywood movie producer with a cutting edge apartment (a.k.a. fuck hut), rather exhausting party-coke-hooker lifestyle and a feeling of lack. The other one is Susan Colgate, 28 year old veteran of child-and-teen beauty pageants, a has-been soap star and an ex-rock`n`roll wife. They meet following John`s near-death experience in which he had a vision of Susan as somebody who could save his life.
The novel consists of 36 chapters and each of them tells part of the story of Susan`s or John`s life up until their meeting as well as events after the encounter. These consist mostly of John`s search for suddenly disappeared Susan. The story doesn`t start at the beginning (though it ends at the end) and the `up to the meeting` part of it doesn`t follow chronological order. Such seemingly disjointed structure works very well though and is surprisingly easy to follow. Each new chapter of Susan`s and John`s life stories adds new insights into the reader`s understanding of the characters and these understandings fall just in the right place, so the order of presentation of the life-stories chunks is decidedly non-random. John`s and Susan`s lives mirror each other in some crucial life events (especially the `disappearing acts` they both effect) as well as in the general meaning - or rather lack of it. They are both rather lonely, lost and looking for some kind of emotional redemption. The way the novel is constructed is definitely one of its best aspects.
The language and imagery is good as well: some of the similes are strikingly fresh and the way they feed on the every day accessories of media/urban lives is rather clever.
The characters are drawn well. In some ways, the whole novel is and explanation of how John and Susan became people that they are - or struggling not to be. John is the first character that we meet and I have to say I disliked him intensely from the beginning, while having an impression that I was actually meant to either sympathise or empathise. I got more used to him half-way through the book but that was all: got used to him. `A self-centred, me-obsessed, sad git` is a description I seem to be dishing out fairly frequently towards fictional characters, but it is quite astonishing how many books are populated by, erm, self-centred, me-obsessed sad gits.
John is, of course, some kind of a victim: a victim of a self-centred age which puts premium on seeking new sensations and experiences and that sees the creation of own `identity` or `personality` (image?) as the ultimate aim and one of the worthiest pursuits in life. John `had felt all the emotions you`re ever likely to feel and from here on it`s re-runs`. And that `TOTALLY scared him`. Well, I have to say I don`t have much sympathy with that feeling. And I don`t have much sympathy with the feeling of `tiredness of being me`. The whole issue of `being me` is something that John certainly devotes too much time for his own good. He seems to live in the world of the intensely personal, in a cage of his won making. He isn`t - nor really - interested in anything beyond the personal. It is as if his whole world consisted just of his own feelings and - from time to time - feelings of other people. He is not an intellectual, political, not even economic being.
The world John inhabits (this actually applies to the whole world of the novel, not just his perception of it) seems strangely devoid of anything but individual human beings (sometimes couples), with no context, no wider picture of any kind. And for such a person in such a world, loneliness is of course a prime concern, and the only way out of the cage is through love or something like that. In a sense he is a teenager or a very young adult in the body of a middle-aged man.
Susan Colgate was for me much more likeable character and the chapters devoted to her life were a joy to read: driven by an ambitious mother through the beauty pageant circuit since the age of four, made-up, dressed-up, cosmetic-surgeried, drilled in answers and movements in order to win. Both the mother and Susan are interesting and well drawn figures, human and sympathetic. And the picture of the beauty-contest circus is wonderful: pathetic, sad, and at moments blood-curdlingly savage vision of a cattle market for young girls. Susan also has some of the `being me/not being me issues` but she also has more of a connection to the world than John which makes her more real, more believable and more likeable than him.
There is several other funky characters in `Miss Wyoming`, my favourite being nerdy Vanessa the Finder (you have to read the book to find out more about her).
Overall I liked the book, but less than I expected and I didn`t consider it particularly special. If I was to compare it to other novels, I read in the last 12 months, it would be located somewhere between William Gibson`s `Pattern Recognition`, Martin Amis` `Money` and Ben Elton`s `High Society`. It is decidedly better written than Elton (worse than the other two though), has definitely less obnoxious protagonists than `Money` and falls very short of the way Gibson managed to put his finger on the pulse of today. To me it lacked breadth and wider picture as well as trying to make me feel sorry for a narrow, self-centred character whose misery seemed to me very much self-inflicted. And I don`t believe in redeeming power of love, so the resolution offered was entirely unconvincing.
On the other hand it was intricately constructed, has fairly compelling story, well designed secondary characters, interesting imagery and rather wonderful, scathing description of the American children-and-teen beauty circus. It is also moderately funny (not in a laugh-out-loud way though), being a satire rather than a comedy.
I am wavering somewhere around three and half star mark but I will not be allowed such a rating, so I will be mean and go with three stars but recommendation, especially if you like stories about urban media professionals concerned with what it means to be `yourself` and if you believe in the power of love to change and redeem people you will get some nice vibes out of it.
The book is available on Amazon for less than £6 in paperback.
If you've read Coupland before, and you took to it like me, then you won't be dissapointed by this book, the intelligence and melding of science fact with emotion is just as good (if not better) than ever. The general theme of the book is similar to a lot of his others, basically escaping from day to day mundane life, but this time, the book feels a lot more grown up, bigger, weightier, once i was into reading it, i found i didn't miss the quirkier stylisms of his earlier books like 'microserfs' variants in typography. It feels like coupland's promise has come of age, blending facts with fiction and feelings. It is a very complex book, But basically, it's a tale of two seperate people, Susan colgate (an 80's tv actor) and John johnson (an action movie producer), it starts off with them meeting by chance, and basically falling in love. Then Susan dissapears. The rest of the book is split chapter by chapter, and rotates between both of their pasts, and John trying to find out where Susan has got to. We find out that both of them have tried to get away from their own lives for a year, and john saw susan on the television when he was in rehab, when she was Miss wyoming, and fell in love with her... It's a modern love story really, but it's also something of a mystery as we try to figure out what happened to make Susan dissapear... We find out in the end, but i won't spoil it.. But i wouldn't really start with this book if you're new to Douglas Coupland, he is a very individual author i find, it may be better to start with one of his earlier ones, such as 'girlfriend in a coma' or 'Generation x' his writing to me is more about little observations and moments inside the story, and they often take preference over the broad scheme of things. And if you're a fan, and wondering over whether to buy it, i say don't hesitate, it's his best in my
opinion, two thumbs up!