Coupland twists Stephen King in 'Girlfriend in a Coma'


From University Wire (April 29, 1999)

by Richard Rush

Douglas Coupland's novels are known for their hip, stylish prose, mildly off-beat plot and characters that question the value of mainstream society. The first half of " Girlfriend in a Coma" is not unusual to these characteristics, the second half, however, becomes too bizarre and too preachy.

It begins innocently enough, as Karen sleeps with her boyfriend, Richard, for the first time -- only to slip into a coma hours afterward. The coma is briefly interrupted for the birth of her daughter, Megan, nine months after it began. Afterward Karen returns to her comatose state for the next 17 years. Richard turns to alcohol and neglects his daughter. Karen's other friends run away or turn to heroin. Megan grows up with what she considers to be a dead mother.

This sort of thing is fairly standard for Coupland, but when Karen wakes up, things get weird. It seems that Karen didn't enter her coma because of the (unwise) mixing of valium and screwdrivers, but rather because she had some sort of visions concerning the future.

In exchange for this knowledge that was not meant for man to know, she is punished by the loss of 17 years of her life. Shortly after Karen's awakening, people start dying. The entire human race (with the notable exception of the protagonists) fall asleep and die.

There is a cosmic lesson to be learned here, and there can be no mistaking what it is, as Coupland takes every opportunity to repeatedly force it upon the reader.

Karen's coma, the survival of her friends and the death of everyone else on Earth relate to the need for man to question. Don't ask me how. Don't ask me why.

Coupland spends the last two chapters harping upon how Richard and company will spend the rest of their lives screaming questions and be better for it. Karen goes back into her coma. The end.

At first it seems as if Coupland is presenting a message of hope. Karen regains awareness and begins living a productive life. Richard stops drinking and begins to take care of his daughter. Pam and Hamilton, two survivors, defeat their addiction to heroin.

Before successfully completing this message, Coupland gets confused and starts thinking he's Stephen King ("The Stand") and people start to die. Even this is salvageable until we learn that Karen's going to return to her coma and never awaken; Coupland stands on his soapbox.

His real message might be acceptable if it were less esoteric, but it is of such an obscure nature, we're left wondering exactly what he was trying to say.

Coupland is an incredible author, and his fiction is not to be missed. Normally, his work centers around an interesting plot that (inevitably) has a subplot very subtly placed.

"Girlfriend in a Coma," however, is pessimistic and unforgivably preachy, beating the reader over the head with an unintelligible message.