A Dysfunctional Family Portrait


From Rocky Mountain News (August 31, 2001)

by Gary Williams

Grade: A

When Douglas Coupland released his first novel, Generation X, in 1991, he coined a term that defined an entire generation, and he risked being forever typecast as its spokesperson. With All Families Are Psychotic, Coupland widens his scope and may soon become the mouthpiece for dysfunctional modern families.

And as far as Coupland is concerned, that's just about all of them.

As one of his characters explains: "All families are psychotic. Everybody has basically the same family - it's just reconfigured slightly different from one to the next."

The misadventures of the Drummond family are the subject of Coupland's breathtakingly fast-paced novel. The razor-thin threads that precariously hold this unit together become even more frayed as they gather for a weekend in Florida to witness Sarah Drummond's launch into space as a "civilian" astronaut taking part in a National Aeronautics and Space Administration program. The main instigator of the story is Wade, son of the divorced Janet and Ted and older brother of the brilliant Sarah and disturbed Bryan.

A surface description of the events that unfold during this bizarre family reunion would read like a week's worth of scripts from the Jerry Springer show. There are kidnappings, gunfire, infidelity, multiple diseases and black-market smuggling to go along with a host of more traditional family resentments.

Yet through all the craziness, Coupland elicits honest emotion from his characters, who become increasingly more recognizable as the intriguing story unfolds. The relationship between Wade and his mother seems always sincere. And as they mine their transgressions of the past, you can sense the compassion and forgiveness that's unspoken between them. Each character is pushed to confront a failed aspect of his relationship with a sibling, parent, child or spouse. This examination doesn't necessarily lead to a closer family, but it does allow each member to have a better understanding of his strong feelings about the clan.

Far from being a dark foray into these desperate lives, Coupland's humor has a way of appealing to your base voyeuristic tendencies. You may want to cover your eyes for the many train crashes you see coming, but it's impossible not to look.

"People are pretty forgiving when it comes to other people's family. The only family that ever horrifies you is your own," says Ted's second wife, Nickie. That sentiment fuels All Families Are Psychotic. Sometimes, Coupland knows, it's easier to see the charm in others' befuddled lives than it is to face your own.

Through no desire of their own, the members of the Drummond family peel off years of pent-up emotion and bare all in Coupland's unforgettable modern tale of an American family.

Photo; Caption: Book Cover / ALL FAMILIES ARE PSYCHOTIC