Miss Wyoming Returns Coupland to Spotlight


From The Toronto Sun (January 8, 2000)

by Jane van der Voort

Eating cheeseburgers from a dumpster seemed like a windfall to Susan Colgate. That is, until the lids were locked and the industrial garbage truck carried the TV star and child beauty queen away.

That's how things go when you're a character in Douglas Coupland 's new novel, Miss Wyoming. Again edgy and darkly comedic, the tale is Coupland's best yet. Nuances of Generation X and Shampoo Planet lend this work an implicit familiarity upon first meeting Colgate and co-protagonist John Johnson. Again, the hunt is on, this time for more than self-discovery. When Susan vanishes mere hours after John meets her and falls in love, we're off.

As John searches for his dream woman, we visit back upon his depraved years of strange sex and designer drugs, the pastimes of a hotshot L.A. movie producer. It's background to his recent mission: Walking into the sunset without money, credit cards, I.D., or even his own clothes. As he prepares to leave on his journey, John leads a pair of nubile twin callgirls through his home, collecting possessions to give away. His Tiffany box of enema equipment spills onto the floor in an unnerving moment as Coupland reminds us not to get complacent with the tale and its pacing.

But where's Susan? And who is she, anyway? A Jon-Benet Ramsay-like pageant baby, TV sitcom star, and wife of a head-banger rock god, Susan is also the only survivor of a jetliner crash, a home explosion and the aspirations of her trailer-trash mother.

Dressed in a ballgown and stage makeup, four-year-old Susan's earliest memory is riding a hotel elevator floor to floor, looking for her mom who left the little one behind to teach her what happens to beauty pageant losers. At age 14, Susan awakes from having her nose done to find her mom smoking a cigarette and confessing she'd arranged to have Susan's jaw rebuilt while she was out. Years later, upon finally winning a state title, she wears the crown for mere moments before exacting revenge on her mother and handing it off to the first runner-up.

You can't help but really, really like this girl. Her life seems fated, dictated even, by disasters. Susan also drops out of society, but instead of being rescued from a ditch, sick and shivering like John, she uses the tricks from her "show dog" days to succeed on the road (literally!) to discovering what makes her happy.

In Miss Wyoming, Coupland again supports his plot on the strength of women -- a matriarchal pattern he's previously used with success. As well as Susan, the author introduces Stephanie (a name we've met in earlier novels) whose calm, cool, analytical mind makes her the perfect captain of the search team. Susan's mother Marilyn -- although for the most part a villain -- also emerges as a greater force than even her daughter knows.

Mothers abound in Miss Wyoming, yet not one of them is a familiar mothering mother. Just as Gen-X spoke boldly for the disassociated twentysomethings, Coupland again reaches out with a novel of the times.

A telemarketing scam, a major air crash, the iconoclasm of pop culture, television as teacher and the acceptance of Big Brother among us are elements used with stinging success by the author. In using them, Coupland holds a mirror in front of us.

Fortunately, he does it all with a sense of humour.

In the end, Coupland leaves us on the brink: Are we really meant to live in a modern, pre-determined techno-society or is the right way one without the modern connections we've come to rely on?

For some the answer lies in a cheeseburger at the bottom of a dumpster.