Review of Shampoo Planet


From Playboy (September, 1992)

by Digby Diehl

Two Fresh young voices give us vivid portraits of what it's like to be a kid today. Mostly, it means a life bombarded by societal disapproval - from parents, teachers, cops and politicians - which one escapes with cool disdain, drugs, loud music or antisocial behavior.

In Shampoo Planet (Pocket), by Douglas Coupland, and Kicking Tomorrow (Random House), by Daniel Richler, two Canadian writers chronicle a short period in the lives of young men at the end of their teen years. Tyler Johnson, the 20-year-old antihero of Coupland's novel, is too old for mall-jamming and too young to become one of the undead who trudge through 50 years of work and money. Hair is a big thing in his world: "Your hair is you - your tribe - it's your badge of clean. Hair is your document. What's on top of your head says what's inside your head." Hence, the Shampoo Planet shop in the mall in Lancaster, Washington, is central to Tyler's life.

Tyler's mother is a leftover Sixties flower child who can't keep a job or a marriage. His biological father is still farming marijuana in California and his stepfather is a drunken hustler who went broke. His grandparents are obsessed with a get-rich-quick pyramid scheme built on a cat food called KittyWhip. Small wonder that Tyler walks around in a daze of capitalistic fantasies as a hotel management major at the Lancaster Community College Hospitality Industry Education Department.

Protected by a shell of cynicism, Tyler bumbles his way through the obligatory rites-of-passage European trip, is dismayed by the festive scene at Jim Morrison's grave and is picked up by an I'm-so-bored rich girl named Stephanie. She comes to Lancaster just as Tyler's despised stepfather reappears. Tyler drives with Stephanie to Hollywood, where she dumps him. When Tyler appears to have hit bottom selling crayon rubbings of the stars on Hollywood Boulevard, his comically cursed existence takes a happy turn upward.

It is the witty humor, vulnerable uncertainty and self-deprecating honesty of his narrator that makes Coupland's novel so exceptional.