Gen-X chronicler lassoes loopy love


From USA Today (January 2000)

by Mike Snider

With Miss Wyoming, Douglas Coupland has written a novel for generations beyond those labeled "X." Since the publication of 1991's Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture, Coupland has been unwillingly, he says, tabbed as a spokesman for the post-baby boomers.

Marketers took the term "Generation X" and ran with it in their attempt to label their then-twenty something targets. "It's a part of my life. It's my Campbell Soup can. It's no big deal to me," Coupland says on his recently relaunched Web site (

Coupland, 39, has continued his sociocultural observations, and after zooming in on young programmers in microserfs, he has expanded his vision.

His latest novel has an Americana feel that differs from his 1998 sci-fi-flavored Girlfriend in a Coma. Nonetheless, the author persists on his search for the meaning of life, one that will satisfy the faithful.

Miss Wyoming is built around the love-at-almost-first-sight tale of fallen movie producer John Johnson and former TV sitcom star/beauty queen Susan Colgate. They meet at a Beverly Hills luncheon hot spot and, smitten with each other, take a long walk in midtown L.A.

Conversation reveals that both have had life-altering experiences: John pulled a modern-day Thoreau by dropping out of society in an attempt at rebirth; Susan was the lone survivor of an airliner crash.

When Susan doesn't return his call the next day, John senses that something has gone wrong. What follows is a madcap mystery, the clues to which Coupland deals out in a flashback/flash-forward manner.

Coupland's cultural name-dropping remains fresh and relevant. A drive through suburban sprawl is described as going "past a thousand KFCs, past four hundred Gaps, two hundred Subways." Early on, Susan mentions she was involved in the pageant circuit "since about the age of JonBenet-and-a-half" and grew up trying to be "more Barbie than Barbie." Elsewhere, John reflects back that what he thought was a life-changing dream was not "this great big mystical Dolby THX vision."

Coupland wields more than wordplay in Miss Wyoming. The TV, movie and pageantry industries get a dose of vilification.

And his characters have true-ringing voices, among them the pageant pet Susan, who ages from 4 1/2 to 37 during the telling of the tale; her mother, Marilyn, whose success-seeking for Susan leads to stealing cars and arranging cosmetic surgery for her daughter; Ryan, a video-store clerk obsessed with Susan; and Vanessa, his twenty something computer geek girlfriend who joins their search for Susan.

At its heart, this is a novel about identity. And although much of the story deals with the identity crises faced by Susan and John, others are playing their own head games.

Still, Miss Wyoming holds up the possibility of a happy ending - that two troubled people might find solace in each other, despite the mad, mad antics they endure.

Overall, Coupland's latest is a pageant of his skills that's deserving of a wider audience