In 'Coma,' Coupland segues into sci-fi


From USA Today (March 25, 1998)

by Mike Snider

With Girlfriend in a Coma , Douglas Coupland has crafted a morality play for The X-Files generation.

Since Coupland's 1991 Generation X, he has been praised for his cultural observations and apt characterizations. If critics found fault, they cited soft plots or repetitive themes.

Coupland's latest, Coma (HarperCollins, $24), unwaveringly picks up on a favorite theme -- the search for meaning in today's life -- but explores new territory, trespassing into the realm of science fiction.

Even Coupland isn't sure who will follow. "This one is coming from such an extreme place in my head. I have no idea how people are going to relate to it," Coupland says during a recent interview.

Strange days, indeed, are ahead. On a frosty December night in 1979, Karen and her boyfriend, Richard, both 17, lose their virginity. Later in the evening, she loses consciousness and slips into a coma.

Nine months later, a still-comatose Karen gives birth. She remains comatose as life goes on for her daughter, boyfriend and friends.

In the years that follow, some of the group venture out of their tightly-knit circle. One becomes an electrical engineer, then a drifter; others, a model and an emergency room physician. But they all eventually return to their Vancouver, British Columbia, neighborhood -- just like one where Coupland, 36, , grew up.

Living a treadmill-like existence, Richard continues to hope for better days: "I still lived with the belief that meaning could pop into my life at any moment. I was getting -- we were getting -- no younger, yet for some reason not particularly wiser."

The gang gravitates to the TV and film industry and they find some satisfaction working on a science-fiction TV series filmed in Vancouver. (The X-Files has been filmed in Vancouver, though it's moving to L.A.)

Then, in October 1997, 18 years after she initially lost consciousness, Karen awakes, causing a worldwide tabloid sensation. Somehow, Karen has gotten a glimpse of the future; she is compelled to tell a TV reporter about the end of the world. "Three days after Christmas (1998). That's when the world goes dark," she says.

An apocalypse does come and Coupland's characters seem to be the only ones who've survived. Faced with an existence reminiscent of Alas, Babylon -- the 1959 end-of-the world, nuclear holocaust book, the characters forage through deserted supermarkets and video stores for canned food and videocassettes to pass the time. Eventually, they are visited by the ghost of a high school friend, Jared, who died as a teen. He descends from heaven and delivers an ultimatum, which offers a unique twist on the film, It's a Wonderful Life.

It was with some trepidation that Coupland -- who has his own Web site at -- even dealt with such a vision. But the tale allows him to tackle some issues: a life-long fixation with comas, society's obsession with the millennium -- and his own attempts to craft a book on an expanded scope.

Compared with his previous books, such as 1996's Postcards from the Dead (HarperCollins, $13), he says, "This one's much more single-pieced than a collage. I think that is the direction I'm headed right now."

Coupland's body of work has been building toward Coma. His disaffected GenX-ers checked out of mainstream society in their search for meaning. "My life had become a series of scary incidents that simply weren't stringing together to make for an interesting book, and God, you get old so quickly!" says Dag in Generation X.

Richard expresses similar feelings in Coma, before the cataclysm: "We really don't seem to have any values, any absolutes. I think we've always wanted something noble or holy in our lives, but only on our terms. . . . What are our convictions? If we had any convictions would we even have the guts to follow them?"

Coma is sure to provoke a response. Some may consider this as merely a sappy step beyond his 1994 book, Life After God. But others will hear a message of hope and a challenge to shed their cynicism.