Presumably has a Conditioner Moon.

Presumably has a Conditioner Moon.

“My mother, Jasmine, woke up this morning to find the word D-I-V-O-R-C-E written in mirror writing on her forehead with a big black felt pen.”

My Coupland Rereadathon continues with his second novel, Shampoo Planet. It’s not one that had particularly stuck in my mind and, as such, I had relegated it to position of Least Favourite Coupland Novel. However, after reading it again and noting that it isn’t quite as good as Generation X, if this is the worst then the rest must be really good.

This is the story of Tyler Johnson, a twenty-year-old student in hotel/motel management in Washington state. He’s a product of his generation with memories that start from Ronald Reagan, obsessions with both the future and haircare products, and a hippie mother who is in the midst of a mid-life crisis. He has a good life, however, living with his mother and his siblings, radical Daisy and geeky Mark, and spending time with his wonderful, smart girlfriend Anna-Louise and his strange motley crew of friends. He plans to one day work for Bechtol, a large company with a finger in every pie.

But things don’t necessarily always work out the way we plan, and when Stephanie, Tyler’s French fling from his gap year in Europe, turns up unannounced, she changes everything. With no apparent ambition and scathing of pretty much everything the American dream stands for, she ruffles more than a few feathers. Anna-Louise realises the history between Tyler and Stephanie and so leaves him, and when Jasmine’s ex Dan reappears in her life, Tyler is prompted to up-sticks and move to Hollywood, taking Stephanie and his broken dreams with him.

As usual, Coupland is a master of digging into the here and now and finding the truths that we’ve tried so hard to hide. In this book, he tackles the nature of shopping malls and nuclear power plants and the damage both are doing to our minds and bodies. It’s a study in commercialism. Jasmine had such hippie ideals but now just one generation later, Tyler is one of those swaddled in a world driven by consumerism (he names at least sixteen brands of shampoo over the course of the short book). There are discussions about the divide between the rich and the poor (the rich always win, says Tyler) and there’s much about money, how easy it is to lose but how hard it is to get.

As an undercurrent to the whole text, there lies Tyler’s grandparents who have entered into a pyramid scheme (although are apparently unaware that the whole thing is a scam) selling cat food. They work to get pretty much every other character in the book to join them.

The book has some of the great, surreal moments that you expect from Coupland. When he’s not comparing how Europe is obsessed with history and America is obsessed with the future, Tyler is doing things like writing slogans onto banknotes, dubbing it “tragic cash”. He originally pens a flaw of one of his friends onto each one, but they’re generic enough that any of us could relate to them, if we really admitted it. Some examples include:

Your inability to achieve solitude makes you settle for substandard relationships.

You still don’t know what you do well.

You pretend to be more eccentric than you actually are because you worry you are an interchangeable cog.

At the start of the novel, there are also two curious periodic tables, featuring erroneous elements more suited to the modern world. These include Television (Tv), Guns (Gu), Hard Drive (Hd), Obsession (Ob), The Eighties (Ei), McNugget (Mc), Leather Jacket (Lj), Anorexia (Ax), Photocopy (Xx) and Spandex (Ly). They’re never mentioned in the text, but they make for an interesting idea.

It’s not a bad book, so I retract my previous statement of it being the worst of his books for now. Hell, I may find it is later, but I feel that last time I read it, I just didn’t get it. As it is, I think it’s a brilliant but not exactly critical look at the world of mass-production and McJobs that has existed for the last twenty years or so.

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