wyoming“Susan Colgate sat with her agent, Adam Norwitz, on the rocky outdoor patio of the Ivy restaurant at the edge of Beverly Hills.”

In my mission to reread all of Douglas Coupland’s work, I trundle at last into the current century with Miss Wyoming. The first of his novels that is written entirely in third person, the first that was written entirely from his head, rather than being built up in notebooks, and yet despite these changes, Coupland is as on the ball as ever, with a firm understanding of the way the world works. Victoria Glendinning, writer for the Daily Telegraph, reviewed Coupland as follows: “If you find anything about the way we live now disturbing and wrong, he is your man. (He is my man.)” He’s my man, too, and this book is just one of the reasons why.

Coupland’s sixth book tells the stories of Susan Colgate (former beauty queen, failed actress, married to a gay rock star) and John Johnson (drug-addled and lonely former director of action films), both of whom find their lives riddled with fame and desperate for escape. John escapes by selling everything he owns and heading out onto the road without a dime to his name, losing himself in the wilderness. Susan’s chance at anonymity comes slightly more dramatically, when she finds herself as the only survivor of a plane crash. She skips away unharmed and unnoticed and hides for a year, leaving everyone to assume that she has died. When these two characters meet, they see something within one another that they have never found anywhere before, prompting feelings to ignite and the promise of a brighter future to bloom.

The novel jumps back and forth in time, switching point of view of Susan and John (and sometimes others), telling us what happened during their childhoods, their adulthoods, their disappearances and their reintroduction to society. There is no rhyme or reason to the ordering of the story, but by the end a very clear picture has been drawn up and everything is explained. This is a story about loneliness and the perils and pitfalls that come from being famous – in particular, having everything and then losing it.

It’s a strange sort of love story, as the two main characters share a very small number of pages together, the overwhelming majority of the novel being about their individual lives. The supporting cast are all excellent, including Vanessa and Ryan (a woman who knows everything and her Susan-obsessed boyfriend), Eugene (a former pageant judge and artist specialising in trash scupltures), and Marilyn (Susan’s overbearing, selfish mother). They show the intricate world that builds up around anyone touched by fame, whether directly or once-or-twice removed from it. Marilyn, in particular, clings to the fame that Susan has provided, claming that without her, none of it would have happened. She’s a vile person, but a fascinating character and written wonderfully realistically.

As ever with Coupland, it’s simply the writing that shines. He has a way with words, metaphors and expressions that I would give my left arm for, and I daresay I’m not alone in that. In the wrong hands, the story could be stale and tired, but Coupland writes with such fizz and reality that it’s impossible to not find yourself enjoying the tumbling ride alongside the characters.

Like in others of his books, Coupland here delights in writing out a list of truths, this time a list of things about the modern world that would astound someone from one hundred years ago. These include such gems as, “Women do everything men do and it’s not a big deal”, “The universe is a trillion billion million times larger than you ever dreamed it would be”, and my personal favourite, “You pretty well never see or smell shit.”

After Girlfriend In A Coma, which is probably still my favourite of his books, Miss Wyoming seems quite a nice gentle respite. The world doesn’t end, and the whole thing seems fundamentally more normal. It’s a sweet book with a lot of heart and if you like your love stories to be a bit weird, you could do worse than this one.

Advertisements