Seeking Love on Hollywood's Seedier Side


From Houston Chronicle (April 16, 2000)

by Cecile S. Holmes

NEVER have there been more unlikely soul mates than almost-has- been film producer John Johnson and once-popular TV star Susan Colgate - masters of the art of reinvention but failures in the field of daily life.

In his newest novel, best-selling author Douglas Coupland (Generation X; Microserfs) takes the reader on a trip through the seedier side of Hollywood. With sophisticated wit and strong comic timing, he introduces us to a culture laced with plastic pleasures for the body and minefields for the heart. His story unfolds with the fast-paced action of a good play.

Coupland's ability to breeze through the rougher worlds of drugs, prostitutes and Hollywood action cinema - and the day-to-day rumblings of odd family relationships - adds depth to this humorous tale of mystery and intrigue. As in earlier novels, he proves able to turn the seemingly trivial into the meat of a compelling tale.

The novel opens with an airline crash so steeped in gore that the families of victims have body parts - not whole corpses - to sort through. People wander in and out of the plot sometimes stealing a scene or two. However, like any good theatrical director, Coupland manages to draw our focus back to the main action.

Susan Colgate somehow emerges in one piece from this crash, yet she is loath to return to anything conventional or familiar.

She never liked the JonBenet Ramsey-like world of beauty pageants through which her mother dragged her as a child. She wasn't much happier in her late teen years, even with a starring role in a TV sitcom. When the chance arises, she willingly trades the occasional stardom she has enjoyed as Susan Colgate for the fameless world of a suburban housewife, finding something wonderfully safe and familiar in anonymity.

But Colgate has always wanted something more. Her wistful search is not financial, professional or even truly spiritual. It is more a crisis of identity.

Johnson, who experiences a spiritual rebirth (he thinks) after seeing a face and hearing a voice from his hospital bed where he has almost died of the flu, is also looking for himself. He becomes convinced that it was Susan's face he saw and her voice he heard in the hospital. He seeks her out, while both seek lives based on who they are, not what they do - or what others think of them.

The novel is mostly their love story, as each tries to find "something moral and fine" in the other. After their first meeting at a posh Beverly Hills eatery, the novel doubles back, gradually re- creating their stories and showing how their two searches eventually merge into one.

Johnson, a character whose history is developed more through description than anecdote, survives a near-death experience, as does Colgate.

She checked out of her old life and into anonymity. When his illness offers him a way out of the rat race, he moves quickly to a hobolike existence. But like Colgate, he eventually returns to some semblance of normal life.

Yet neither finds the peace they desperately seek. Both are searching at the novel's close.

Miss Wyoming illustrates Coupland's skills as a storyteller. It offers moving portraits of well-intentioned people who end up approaching life's deepest issues sideways. Coupland clearly is a student of popular culture and a master at creating characters the reader might ignore were the novelist not so gifted.

No one has a final revelation in this novel. Instead, the book's great lesson may be that life is found - and lived - in the seeking.