New York Times (January 16, 2000)
Douglas Coupland's novel refracts human need through the bluish flicker of the TV screen.
The heroine of Douglas Coupland's seventh book is a woman named Susan Colgate -- a former child beauty pageant queen turned rock 'n' roll bride turned television actress -- whose many achievements include surviving an airplane crash. She was en route to Los Angeles at the time, after an unsuccessful audition, when her flight, out of touching sympathy with her career, went into a nose dive. ''The oxygen hoses swooned like cartoon water lilies, and the TV screens resumed playing 'Cheers,' ''Coupland writes, but then nothing, not even an air crash, could interrupt the flow of television in a Douglas Coupland novel. Television is his guiding light, his North Star, his totem and talisman, although there have been signs of late that Coupland wishes, if not to transcend its bluish flicker, then at least to get out of the house a bit more.
''Miss Wyoming'' kicks off when Susan, having survived her brush with death, decides to go hunting for a new life -- she just ups and hits the road, but not before entering the dream life of a burned-out movie producer named John Johnson. This happens on television, naturally. John is in the hospital recovering from a bout of pharmaceutical abuse when he catches one of Susan's shows and falls in ''desperate need'' of her, although whether to save her soul from the purgatory of eternal reruns or to plug up his own internal ache is hard to say, such is the fine dusting of melancholy covering everyone in the book. Coupland occupies much the same consumer universe as, say, Bret Easton Ellis, but while Ellis's books feel so aggressively up-to-the-minute you wonder if he will finish typing them by the time you get to the last page, Coupland's are more soft-edged with mournfulness. His brand labels are just slightly faded, and they peel back to reveal characters contemplating their own obsolescence -- Hamlets of the shopping mall, pondering their mortality as if it were a sell-by date.
And so John, the burnout, goes in search of Susan, the has-been; however, given John's own habit of going AWOL and scavenging food from Dumpsters, he seems a poor choice to play private detective. Even if he did manage to track Susan down, wouldn't they just gloop into each other, two spiritual meltdowns in a puddle? The publishers have called this book ''a heartfelt American romance,'' which, except for the bit about America, sounds unlikely to anybody who has ever read a Coupland novel. When Joe does finally find Susan, on page 256, the book promptly ends, as if out of sheer embarrassment at their proximity. Coupland is one of nature's dyed-in-the-wool solipsists, and he's much happier with his characters the same way, cut loose and spinning in the breeze, where they can give voice to his own highly discursive urges: ''John wondered why it is people lose the ability to make friends somewhere around the time they buy their first expensive piece of furniture.''
That's a good point, nicely put; perhaps even too good, for the suspicion remains that Coupland's characters are little more than handy storage depots for their creator's observations -- thought balloons with people attached, floating across cloudless skies, gently bumping into one another. The depthlessness of the resulting collage may be the point; when Coupland's characters wake up in an ersatz suburban landscape that ''seemed to have been airfreighted in from the Fox lot'' or turn to each other with cries of ''Oh, Randy, this is so Oscar clip,'' you may choose to see a writer satirizing a sensibility that cannot see beyond the end of its cosmetically enhanced nose. You may also, however, catch a fatal brittleness of tone. For all its outward-bound urges, ''Miss Wyoming'' remains a curiously clipped and uptight work, unwilling to let loose in any direction that doesn't hold out the promise of camp cleverness. If Kerouac had been a couch potato, this is the kind of book he might have written.