Gen X Vet Lassos Absurdities in Miss Wyoming


From University Wire (February 1, 2001)

by Kelly Wilson

BOSTON -- We know everything about celebrities-the glamour, the fame, the red carpets. Does anyone actually consider what happens to people who never really make it? These are the Hollywood burnouts that never cease in search for love and meaning. Once again, Douglas Coupland successfully provides a greater insight into the world of a generation he first christened "Generation X" in his first novel.

In "Miss Wyoming," the once hip Gen-X has matured to their mid-30s. Nevertheless, they are still lonely, still attempting to find themselves and still pursuing a heightened sense of awareness. In spite of the twisting plot, Coupland manages to do an amazing job of weaving his unique brand of Hollywood humor into the dialogue between his characters.

The novel itself is arranged into a series of flashbacks and flash-forwards that give the reader glimpses into the lives of several quirky and hilarious washouts, has-beens and hopefuls.

Susan Colgate suddenly realizes her life is more interesting when she is presumed to be dead. She was thrust into the limelight early, beginning her career "at the age of Jon Benet and a half," as a child beauty pageant regular who was constantly dragged from state to state by her neurotic, hillbilly mother addicted to lottery tickets and mail fraud. Regardless of the numerous efforts she made throughout her life to see her name plastered on the Hollywood A-list, at 25, Susan is on a fast track to nowhere. Yet, following a flight from New York where she attempted to audition for the part of a wacky neighbor on a sitcom, Susan finds herself the sole survivor of a tragic plane crash.

The other main character is John Johnson, a producer of "hits" such as "The Wild Land," a film that "didn't even go straight to video, more like straight to Malaysia." Johnson develops an infatuation with Susan and is convinced that finding her will put his own life back together. After waking up in a hospital "from an overdose of five prescription drugs, mixed with cognac and two Slimfast strawberry shakes," to a vision of Susan Colgate's face, Johnson decides to leave Hollywood. He begins to pursue the joys of dumpster diving in the Southwest, all the while hoping uncover the Susan's mysterious disappearance.

In addition to his richly layered characters, Coupland perceptively manages to include his values, beliefs and ideals in the novel, intertwining them subtly within the plot. In many of Coupland's previous works, such as "Life After God" and "Shampoo Planet," the style and fresh point of view function as the main attraction. But in "Miss Wyoming," the innovative and occasionally confusing plot is what drives the novel, combined with faint and understated doses of Coupland's distinctive views on morality.

"Miss Wyoming" contains characters obsessed with their own fame, yet trying to escape it at the same time. Coupland creates a new definition of fame for his characters, whose dreams outline pathetic desires to play a reoccurring role on "Charles in Charge," or perhaps a guest spot on "Days of Our Lives." In their world, there is no such thing as making it big. They are constantly in flux between their desire for fame, their loss of fame, their attempts at hiding from the glittering spotlight and their disappearances they pray will propel them into the focus of attention once again.

The contradictory nature of the pattern nevertheless brings forth a wave of sympathy and the ability to relate to the paradoxical search for meaning in life. "Miss Wyoming" may be a drastic change in plot from Coupland's previous novels, however, he manages to display his gift for capturing the absurdities of modern existence through an unassuming love story that expertly mocks at stardom, glory and artificial popularity.