Madness Begins at Home


From New York Daily News (August 19, 2001)

by Sherryl Connelly

There is a lovely "Our Town" moment in Douglas Coupland's "All Families Are Psychotic." When a former husband and wife agree to talk to each other, it sounds as if they are speaking from the grave. "When did I turn bad, Jan?" Ted asks. "Tell me, because I wasn't always such a bad guy."

She obliges by saying: "I think you started going bad when you started cheating on me ... "

Janet Drummond has just learned that Nicki, the younger woman Ted left her for, has truly failed him. He'd believed she would immunize him against aging. Instead, Ted's been told that his prostate cancer has advanced to the terminal stage.

Janet, meanwhile, has bonded with Nicki over a diagnosis - each has AIDS. Janet contracted it when Ted shot their oldest son, Wade, and the bullet passed through him into her. Wade also gifted Nicki with the disease. They had an afternoon's fling before she discovered he was her husband's son. Hence, the shooting incident.

Obviously, this is a family with issues.

Although Coupland's novel is studded with his trademark absurdities in place of a plot, it actually has a throughline. And as a story, it touches the heart. In fact, the book occasionally verges on sentimentality - though Coupland effectively douses it with irony.

Several years after the family's last momentous get-together, it is reuniting at Cape Canaveral to witness the triumph of Wade's sister, Sarah. Born without a left hand, she is about to become the first handicapped astronaut shot into space. Wade has shown up with his born-again wife. Their brother Bryan is also in attendance with his radical punk girlfriend, who is pregnant and intends to sell her baby.

Not that she's told Bryan that. In any case, their personal drama is soon to be subsumed into a larger production as the Drummond family takes its show on the road.

Events cause them to hit Florida's highways, sometimes at high speeds, as they stalk, and then are stalked by, the billionaire Bahamian connection who wants to buy the letter labelled "Mummy" that was affixed to Princess Diana's coffin. It happens that the Drummonds are in possession of it.

Where the family is really heading for is reconciliation, since Coupland is ultimately telling a sweet story here. But, needless to say, the Drummonds take the long way home, it being the only route they know.

Caption: Douglas Coupland