Even Fans Should Miss 'Wyoming'


From Chicago Tribune (January 17, 2000)

by Marta Salij

`Miss Wyoming" is a comedy of the unfunny and a romance of the unlovable. If it weren't for Douglas Coupland 's whirligigs of language, there would be scarcely anything here to read at all.

Coupland's first misstep is to make this a satire of Hollywood. Tired. Obvious. Then he builds his plot around a sendup of beauty pageants. Even more obvious.

And then, as if determined to doom his story, he brings in two barely interesting lovebirds. John Johnson is a drug-addled producer of "Die Hard"-like bloodfests. Susan Colgate is a no-talent sitcom actress who once was crowned Miss USA Teen.

They meet at the Ivy restaurant in Beverly Hills. She is a cool salve on "a burn he didn't even know he had." He makes her believe that "the long-lost tingle of destiny was once again with her."

Well, they do have things in common. Both have survived seemingly unsurvivable, astounding events. (The astounding events are when "Miss Wyoming" veers closest to the skewed fantasies of a Vonnegut or Brautigan, to the book's great benefit.) Their freakish good luck made them, ahem, rethink who they are.

The rethinking, told in flashback, flirts with allegory--Johnson gives away his possessions and wanders the wilderness of suburbia, Colgate finds room at the inn and bears a baby--but not with insight. Johnson's conclusions fit on a bumper sticker: You can't escape yourself. Colgate's do, too: Baby changes everything.

Coupland likes to play with form, and "Miss Wyoming" is a series of nesting, dizzying flashbacks. I could forgive Coupland if all the backtracking revealed unexpected motivations, but, no, all motivations expected.

Coupland is a media darling for his observations of modern culture and the sheer energy of his writing. He'll fling any simile--"this red roast beef of a baby who wailed like the thrashed clutch of a Chevrolet"--against the wall to see if it will stick, and there's great fun in watching that.

If you're a Coupland fan, skim "Miss Wyoming" to see what your hero's up to. Others should read "Generation X," Coupland's first book, or maybe "Microserfs," and learn why he has a following.