`Miss Wyoming' a mere runner-up


From Associated Press (February 28, 2000)

by Laura K. Barge

Fans of "Generation X" author Douglas Coupland might wonder if his new novel, "Miss Wyoming" (Pantheon, $23), was written on a dare - or on deadline.

It's hard to tell if this is an earnest love story or a deadpan farce, as it leaves readers unsure they "get it."

"Miss Wyoming" is told in a straightforward narrative with flashbacks. The writing is superb in places, but this tale about a washed-up beauty queen, who miraculously survives a plane crash, and the action-adventure film actor who loves her lacks irony and is almost maudlin.

Susan Colgate's pushy pageant mom will do anything to help her win, including moving the family to sparsely populated Wyoming. Mom's plan prevails (after she blackmails a judge), but a rebellious Susan announces that she has a C average and really needs to study if she wants to go to college. Then she hands the crown to the first runner-up.

Later, Susan lands a TV series, it's canceled, and she is in a plane crash - of which she is the lone survivor, no less. She walks away from it and drops out of sight. She becomes pregnant by a weatherman (and former pageant judge) currently supporting himself through mail fraud.

No, really!

Then there is John Johnson, the actor who is heir to a pesticide dynasty. His stable, married business partner is also his best friend. John lives with his mother, sort of.

He, too, pulls a vanishing act. While recuperating in the hospital from drug use and exhaustion, he sees a rerun of Susan's TV series and dreams she is speaking to him. He hires twin prostitutes to oversee the distribution of all his worldly goods and, one morning, leaves his BMW in a parking lot and walks away, with no cash and no credit cards.


And that's not even the half of it.

Fraught with incredibility and improbability, this might be a tale of two famous people with disappointing childhoods searching for meaning. Or it might be comedy.

"Miss Wyoming" moves along - crammed into this book are ideas on eco-terrorism, a hacker, some (surprise!) plastic surgery, Dreama the lesbian numerologist, a slimy Hollywood agent and a kidnapping.

But as entertaining as it is, more is expected of Coupland. His finger was on the pulse of the generation he named. He knew their slang, what they ate and where they worked. Readers thought "Generation X" was about them, their lives, their friends.

The characters in "Miss Wyoming" are too over-the-top to identify with and too privileged to feel sorry for.