Douglas Coupland is neither a master of plot, nor of characterisation. However, when on form, he is possibly the most gifted exegete of North American mass culture writing today. Since his remarkable debut, the era-defining Generation X , the quality of Coupland's fiction has varied substantially. But JPod is without a doubt his strongest, best-observed novel since Microserfs , to which it is a kind of sequel.
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Douglas Coupland's new novel begins thus: a quote from the FBI director general about how "Winners don't do drugs", followed by four pages of large-font slogans and computer programming fragments; two pages of small-font, un-indented, free-associated sentences such as "Put the word 'implement' in your resume and you won't get phoned back"; two pages of several thousand tiny dollar signs; a page of the words "ramen noodles" repeated times 52 weeks times 7 days, presumably ; and a page containing only the words "click here".
The novel proper finally begins with a character saying: "Oh God. I feel like a refugee from a Douglas Coupland novel. JPod is set in a world familiar from Coupland's earlier novels Generation X and Microserfs: glib, amoral, often quite funny, but so cloaked in levels of wearisome irony that nothing ends up meaning anything. It tells the nominal story of Ethan Jarlewski and his five co-workers in "JPod", a working group in a video game production company in Vancouver.
The co-workers are neatly delineated in biographies across pages 29 to 34, which is handy because they're so fading I kept having to refer back to see who they were. Ethan's mom is a bright, suburban housewife with a huge marijuana "grow-op" in her basement and a knack for killing off dealers who cheat her out of money. Ethan's dad is a desperately aspiring actor with a passion for ballroom dancing, and new friend Kam Fong smuggles people into Canada from the Far East.
The plot? Well, it's standard practice for a book reviewer to make copious notes while reading, highlighting noteworthy quotes, important plot twists, encapsulating themes and so on. Things trundle along nicely enough, with lots of individual bits that never quite make a story: the marketing department keeps making fatal changes to the game JPod are working on; their boss disappears, then reappears with a cheerful heroin habit after Ethan rescues him from China; and so on.
Nothing, at least, that should be taken particularly seriously. Just like Microserfs which was also about a group of feckless 20somethings working for a software company , JPod is padded with pages of random slogans, spam emails, lists of brand names and a series of half-hearted games for the reader. Want to see the first , digits of pi and try to find the one error? It's here on pages Likewise, the 8, prime numbers between 10, and , with one error? Pages These would all be tremendous fun in a Pop Art way if they weren't - like the rest of the novel - so lazily assembled.
At the very least, it makes for a quick read because there are so many pages you can skip. Apart from that unfortunate opening line, Coupland reappears in the novel as a liar, conman and thief taking out his aggressions on the hapless Ethan. And it is this, I think, that finally explains JPod. Coupland's last two novels were both wonderful and atypical. Hey, Nostradamus! Eleanor Rigby was a tragicomic marvel, told by one of "all those lonely people" as she watches her long-lost son slowly die.
Reading these, you felt that Coupland was stretching himself, growing away from the hyper-ironised glibness that is his blessing and curse. JPod, however, is touted on the cover as "Microserfs for the age of Google". Perhaps Coupland's last two novels didn't sell as well as his earlier hits. Perhaps his publishers or even his fans pressured him into returning to subject matter that had performed so well in the past.
Whatever the reason, there is an unpalatable feeling of an artist angrily returning to his rut. Because that's what it is - more of the same, not a sequel, just an upgrade, Microserfs version 2. Douglas Coupland will speak at the Guardian Hay festival today www. Topics Books. Fiction Douglas Coupland Patrick Ness reviews. Reuse this content. Most popular.
May 16, Minutes Buy. Ethan Jarlewski and five co-workers are bureaucratically marooned in JPod, a no-escape architectural limbo on the fringes of a massive Vancouver video game design company. The six jPodders wage daily battle against the demands of a bone-headed marketing staff, who daily torture employees with idiotic changes to already idiotic games. Nobody is exempt, not even his seemingly straitlaced parents or Coupland himself. Full of word games, visual jokes, and sideways jabs, this book throws a sharp, pointed lawn dart into the heart of contemporary life. He has published 14 novels, two collections of short stories, eight nonfiction books, and a number of… More about Douglas Coupland. JPod is a sleek and necessary device: the finely tuned output of an author whose obsolescence is thankfully years away.
When Ronald McDonald did dirty deeds
Douglas Coupland's new novel begins thus: a quote from the FBI director general about how "Winners don't do drugs", followed by four pages of large-font slogans and computer programming fragments; two pages of small-font, un-indented, free-associated sentences such as "Put the word 'implement' in your resume and you won't get phoned back"; two pages of several thousand tiny dollar signs; a page of the words "ramen noodles" repeated times 52 weeks times 7 days, presumably ; and a page containing only the words "click here". The novel proper finally begins with a character saying: "Oh God. I feel like a refugee from a Douglas Coupland novel. JPod is set in a world familiar from Coupland's earlier novels Generation X and Microserfs: glib, amoral, often quite funny, but so cloaked in levels of wearisome irony that nothing ends up meaning anything.
One of the questions Douglas Coupland gets asked most frequently at his idiosyncratic public events as much performance art as literary readings is what happened to the proposed film of Microserfs - his beloved novel about a group of employees at Microsoft who defect to work at a start-up for a product called Oop!. His reply is that the moment seems to have passed temporarily, but as soon as the Nineties revival arrives, he hopes it'll be up and running again. In the meantime we have JPod, a revamping of Microserfs for the Google era. Both feature conversations about almost exactly the same pop culture especially The Simpsons.
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The unavoidable destiny of any franchise is to disappoint its dedicated customer. A long-running television cartoon satire on the nuclear family devolves into repetition and self-parody. The menu offerings of a global fast-food chain you have been frequenting since you could eat solid foods induce stomach cramps and middle-age drift instead of satiety and joy. A beloved sci-fi film epic is revealed as a promotional vehicle for crude merchandise and empty pop philosophy. And still we gravitate toward the familiar, no matter how frequently or profoundly it has let us down in the past; we always prefer the cold comfort of formula to the white-hot panic of unpredictability — modest security over the risk associated with trying something different. At least we do if we live in the United States, which is perhaps why we so desperately need a Canadian to make sense of our lives for us. At times it reads like the textual equivalent of a 's-era Nintendo game: a virtual playground where Coupland's more irritatingly mannered habits run amok.