The Mirror (January 13, 2000)
by Patti Sonntag
With Miss Wyoming, Douglas Coupland tries to reinvent his image.
I hate to admit, I never thought I'd see Douglas Coupland, the author of Generation X and Shampoo Planet, get chocked up and close to tears.
For the record, it wasn't me who made him teary. We met at a forgettable restaurant close to Crescent to discuss his new book Miss Wyoming. I was at first a bit surprised by how nervous this balding, 38-year-old guy was, folding and unfolding a paper placemat while he commented on all the brand names in the restaurant. ("This is like something from The Simpsons: Finnegan Burger with Yorshire Sauce," he said, looking at the menu. "It's a Kids in the Hall sketch just waiting to happen.")
I had been expecting a bit more flash and verve. After all, Coupland is an icon of pop culture, and back in the early '90s, there were headlines about "The Prophet of His Generation." But then, he's almost retro now, and Coupland is in the process of building a new image.
Miss Wyoming is, as critics are mentioning, different than his previous books. It has a definite plot and character development, rather than his now-familiar rambling documentary style. As an ex-Miss Teen USA called Susan Colgate, and John Johnson, a director in the dumps, pursue each other, Coupland examines the lives of people who live in the media spotlight, the damage it does to them and how, in turn, they manipulate everything the media says. There's not one mention of a slacker or a McJob anywhere. It's his best novel yet, and will put him on the landscape as a serious writer if the critics will take him seriously. Which is, maybe, why he looked nervous.
MIRROR: When I was reading your book, I wondered how much of it was shaped by your own experience, since when Generation X came out that label was appropriated by the media.
DOUGLAS COUPLAND: It did. There's no way around it. Even five years ago, writing a book about the Hollywood experience would have been presumptuous, to say the least. Now I've dealt with them in so many aspects, it was no longer alien to me. It's this whole ecology of really desperate people, and some are so awful that I wondered, was there any hope for these people? I tried to create a situation where there would be.
M: Then how did you feel all that time about being addressed as a spokesman for your generation?
DC: I've only written about my own personal experience or a fraction of it. Maybe people want or need to believe that. I've spent nine years not fostering that process but it's still happening.
M: Do you prefer this book because it's so different from that?
DC: It marks an evolutionary step for me. It's embryonic right now. I'm hoping when the next one [after Miss Wyoming] comes out, people will see that, and be surprised.
M: What I found interesting about your personal experience is that for someone who writes about pop culture and pop cultural icons, you then became a pop cultural icon.
DC: That was an accident. (laughs) I have no idea about the effect I have on others. None. If I did, that would be kinda cynical and weird and scary.
His teary moment happened afterwards, at his reading at Cabaret (Tuesday, Jan.3), when he was asked about the difference between his attitudes in his 20s and his outlook now, at 38. He started to say something, then stopped and put his hand to his heart, looking a bit embarassed. "I'm getting all verklempt." I was tempted to make fun of him for sounding like a mother-in-law on The Nanny. But then, after the media flurry of the '90s he's facing the whole task of reinventing himself. Who wouldn't be a bit nostalgic?