An Arthur Dent waiting to happen (beldar) wrote in trubookreviews,
An Arthur Dent waiting to happen

An old review (re)surfaces

While I was working on a review (actually a set of reviews, you'll see) for this community, I came across one I had written a couple of years ago, meaning to submit it to some website or other, but I don't think I ever did.

So I'll go ahead and post it here. I don't mind it being an introduction to my contributing; being unapologetically Generation X, I have a deep appreciation for Douglas Coupland. This review is for his 2003 novel "Hey Nostradamus!" -- I have since read "Eleanor Rigby" and "J-Pod" and will gladly post reviews of those if y'all like.

So here goes, lj-cut in case it gets too spoilery, and because it's kinda long:

Hey Nostradamus! (a novel)
by Douglas Coupland

I’m reminded while reading “Hey Nostradamus!” by Douglas Coupland (“Generation X”) that all of the infamous school shootings of the past several years occurred in communities with a strong evangelical Christian presence.

Coupland doesn’t bring that fact up, it’s just something that came to me. Perhaps it is because of the role a school’s Christian clique plays in this story of people affected by a fictional school shooting in Vancouver, British Columbia.

The book is narrated in turn by four different people: Cheryl, the last student shot; Jason, her secret husband; Heather, a woman in love with Jason; and Reg, Jason’s father.

Cheryl’s story is known only to the reader, as she dies on the floor of the school cafeteria and relates her feelings in an open letter to the God she is about to meet. She provides much of the background, and explains that it was boredom that inspired her to doodle “God is nowhere, God is now here” on her notebook before the shooting started, not any religious epiphany.

But the rest of the book is Jason’s story, even when told by other people.

Jason and Cheryl had been active members of “Youth Alive!” but had become estranged from the group. So in spite of the fact that Jason stops the gunmen, the Christian club backs up the rumor that he was actually the shooters’ leader. He they try to destroy, while Cheryl, with the “miraculous” message on her notebook, they elevate to sainthood.

Betrayed by those with faith, Jason drifts without a moral anchor. Since everyone he meets identifies him with the shooting in one way or another, he doesn’t allow his true self to show to anyone except, eventually, Heather.

Faith was most blinding to Reg. So caught up in his self-righteous ego, he actually seems evil. His religion was without love, and that fact doesn’t dawn on him until it’s too late.

Coupland presents these narratives in a way that grabs your attention and doesn’t let go. The quest here is not to ask why tragedies happen, but how we can deal with them. The student shooters are very minor characters — even in fiction these creeps don’t get the attention they crave — and are presented more as a force of nature then as fellow humans. Like in the aftermath of a hurricane, the focus is not on the cause of the damage, but the recovery from it, the job of picking up the pieces and moving on.

Don’t look for a happier-ever-after ending, but there is some reassurance that life does go on. I didn’t look forward to reading the last part, from Reg’s point of view, but by the time Heather’s story is done and his starts, he has changed. His narrative does help update what happens with some of the other characters, but it doesn’t make me like him, but rather pity him and all he had thrown away.

I have long been a fan of Coupland’s style, with his complex characters and their conversations in which every sentence means something. I don’t know if it is because I’m getting older or he is, but these people seem more real in this book. It reminds us that behind the news of real-world tragedies, those people are real, too.
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