Clever, Challenging Spin on Second-Class Stardom


From The Plain Dealer Cleveland (February 27, 2000)

by Michelle Ross

"Miss Wyoming" is Doug Coupland's sixth novel ("Girlfriend in a Coma," "Microserfs," etc.), and the first one I've read, but just as soon as I build up my strength, I'm going to try another one.

Coupland is exhausting, but that's good. He's witty, ironic, perceptive and constantly unpredictable. You can't relax because so few of his sentences end up the way you might expect.

For example, you're reading a sentence describing a house's landscaping, and suddenly there are "dense evergreens that absorbed noise like sonic tampons." Or a woman's gaze is "locked in time and space, away from the real world of squalling babies, bank cards and casual shoplifting."

"Miss Wyoming" revolves around two people who have felt the stings of second-rate stardom. As Susan Colgate describes her life, "I was on the beauty circuit since about the age of JonBenet-and-a-half, which is, like four. I've also been a child TV star, a has-been, a rock-and-roll bride, an air crash survivor and a public enigma."

She meets movie producer John Johnson, who, despite such hits as "Mega Force" and "Bel Air PI," has rejected his life of sex and drugs for - what?

In Couplandland, it's inevitable that two such forces would meet. But when, just after meeting, Susan again disappears, a cast of characters appears that would warm the heart of Susan's blackmailing stage mother from hell ("Only losers win Miss Congeniality, Susan. Aim higher"). There's a pageant judge given to making lists of things in the present-day world that would astound someone living 100 years before him ("Number 74: You almost never see horses"), assorted groupies and a numerologist.

Yet Coupland's talent is such that the book never dissolves into who-cares looniness. The novel has a firm structure and a compelling plot, and there remains a sweet vulnerability about Susan and John that engages your emotions. "Miss Wyoming" does aim higher than mere congeniality, and walks away with the trophy and the crown. Though, Coupland probably wouldn't want the sash.