Douglas Coupland Redraws the City Limits


From The Baton Rouge Sunday Advocate (April 2, 2000)

by Kathleen Cottay

Occasionally, a writer comes along who is impressively imaginative, who creates characters of depth and believability through astounding detail.

The reader is fascinated that anyone can hold in their head these creative threads and weave them all into a story that is absorbing and fresh.

Douglas Coupland is one such storyteller. His latest, Miss Wyoming, is a vivid, slightly wacky tale of the quest for love between a former beauty queen-turned-actress and an action flick producer. This irreverent romp through the modern entertainment industry is clever and charmingly eccentric.

Pushed by her pageant-obsessed mother, Susan Colgate is the reluctant winner of dozens of beauty titles. When she publicly denounces the whole business and gives her crown to the runner-up, explaining she can't give "a thousand percent to her duties as Miss USA Teen," she captures the attention of a Hollywood producer. Her fame and fortune are set. But of course, the fairy tale existence is a farce. After a brief stint as the toast of the town, Susan realizes she has no acting ability and quickly becomes a has-been. She is not overly disturbed by this turn of events as she never wanted to act to begin with, but a gaping hole she feels in her soul is a more pressing problem. When Susan is the only survivor of a major plane crash, she takes the opportunity to walk away from it all and simply drop out.

John Johnson, slick and sleazy Hollywood producer extraordinaire has all the drugs and dames he can handle. So he tried to make a touchy-feely film and it flopped. That's OK, he's still the man. But in a near death experience in fevered hallucination in the hospital, John has a vision and hears the voice telling him to bug out. He's going to create his own witness protection program and disappear into the open tableau of the real America. Wander the highways and byways in search of "it." The two inevitably return to L.A. and meet by chance at a chic restaurant. John is convinced Susan is the face and voice he heard from the hospital bed. He dismisses the idea that Susan was on a sitcom that was playing on the television and that no more importance can be attached to the event. But are they truly soul mates meant to spend eternity together? A host of other misfits and malcontents join John and Susan in their bumbling attempts to balance their worlds and truly find and stay with each other.

It may sound like a cliche, but Miss Wyoming is neither phony nor trite. Coupland takes wonderful pot shots at the zany L.A. scene and mass-market culture in general. Far from the usual bitter and jaded commentary, this is humorous and insightful. Get past the silly similes in the first few pages like "sweating like a lemonade pitcher" and "felt as close as paint to a wall" and you'll enjoy this story told in an unpretentious and gifted voice.