Coupland Slightly Mellower in Miss Wyoming


From The Daily Yomiuri (June 18, 2000)

by Juliet Rowan

"Miss Wyoming", the latest novel by Douglas Coupland, once again demonstrates the prolific Canadian writer's remarkable ability to capture the idiosyncrasies and peculiarities of contemporary North American life. Coupland, whose first novel, "Generation X," gave rise to the label that came to define a generation of disillusioned 20-somethings faced with the prospect of dead-end jobs in the early 1990s, reiterates the theme of disillusionment in "Miss Wyoming," but in a tale that is ultimately uplifting and even a little bit conventional. "Miss Wyoming" tells the story of two burned-out celebrities--former beauty queen and out-of-work actress Susan Colgate and junkie Hollywood producer John Johnson. After dramatic near-death experiences, both characters choose to abandon the nothingness of their lives by temporarily dropping off the face of the planet. They escape from failure and discontent by becoming invisible to the public eye. Pursuing separate quests for meaning and fulfillment, Susan and John are drawn together by a combination of fate and desire. As in his earlier novels, which include "Shampoo Planet" and "Girlfriend in a Coma," Coupland shows his characters as alienated from--but inextricably linked to--their world. Both Susan and John, in the midst of their flight, are unable to survive without the trappings of the society they assume they are escaping from. They feed off expired hamburgers from McDonald's dumpsters and steal from suburban homes. John swipes a UPS uniform off a washing line, which becomes "his ticket to respectability." Melodramatic, sometimes comic portrayals of contemporary life, which seem to be Coupland's signature trademark, make "Miss Wyoming" another classic for the author. Susan emerges as the sole survivor of a plane crash, but not before Coupland has recorded the rituals of economy class travel evident in doomed Flight 802: "Flight attendants glumly hurled packets of smoked almonds at the passengers... (who) ripped into their nuts all at once, a planewide locustlike chewing frenzy followed by the salty solvent odor of mashed nuts." Coupland's eye for detail and his spot-on observations dare the reader to take a second look at the unquestioned routines of contemporary life, and have a laugh or two in the process. "Generation X" ends with its characters opting for escape from the competitive consumerism of North America by bailing to Mexico, a traditional bohemian refuge. In "Miss Wyoming", by contrast, John and Susan run away, but return to the world they left--albeit with some reluctance. Without wishing to spoil the ending, let's just say "Miss Wyoming" finishes in fairy tale fashion--unmistakably Coupland, but with a new element of traditionalism. The somewhat conventional conclusion is perhaps a reflection of Coupland's advancing age. Almost ten years have passed since he published "Generation X" at the age of 30. One has to wonder if, as Coupland pushes 40, his youthful spirit of rebellion and wandering is being gently replaced by an urge to settle down and play "happy families." As in past novels, Coupland shows his characters as motivated by basic human needs in their desire for love, sex, communication and recognition. In "Miss Wyoming", however, he takes it one step further as "real-life" concepts like parenthood come into play.

Copyright 2000 The Daily Yomiuri