the-gum-thief“A few years ago it dawned on me that everybody past a certain age – regardless of how they look on the outside – pretty much constantly dreams of being able to escape from their lives.”

My Coupland journey continues into 2015, but there are just three more to go, the last of which isn’t even a re-read, but rather his most recent novel that I’ve been saving until I finished all the others. His books have always been somewhat raw, yet funny; but this one is probably the bleakest one so far.

Roger Thorpe is in his forties, divorced, drunk and working at a branch of Staples. To pass the time, he writes in his diary, either his own thoughts, chapters of his first novel, or entries pretending to be his colleague Bethany. Bethany herself is an overweight goth who mostly ignores Roger, until he accidentally leaves his diary out and she is shocked and creeped out to find that he’s been pretending to be her. She is even more shocked and creeped out by the fact that he’s getting it right.

The two begin to swap letters with one another, although never actually talk on the shop floor, and between their strange blossoming friendship, they learn more about one another and Roger gets feedback on his novel, Glove Pond, in which Steve and Gloria (a drunken writer and his actress wife) attempt to hold it together in front of an up-and-coming new novelist who threatens Steve’s ego.

Like all Coupland books, it’s about not knowing who you are and why that’s OK when you’re young. Most of his books deal with that element of being young – Generation X, Microserfs and Shampoo Planet particularly – but as Coupland as aged, so have his characters, and the feeling of loss and confusion is no less prominent. Roger had a pretty good life, but threw it away after one drunken mistake and now he’s all alone, wondering what the purpose of anything is anymore. Once Bethany realises that he’s not such a creep, she begins to feel sorry for him, as she’s already seen what loneliness and confusion can do to people, with her mother DeeDee being a prime example. The novel is told through the letters of Roger, Bethany, DeeDee, Roger’s ex-wife Joan and a few others, with chapters of Glove Pond throughout. And even inside Glove Pond, we see the novel one of the characters there is writing, a novel which seems to mimic the outermost layer of this onion-like tale.

This is a somewhat bleak book, but there is a sense of hope. Coupland’s characters are aware that they need to change if they want the world to be a better place, but this is so much easier said than done. While dealing with hopelessness and our interior struggles, it also touches on the absurdity of consumerism, Hallowe’en costumes, corvid intelligence, aging, and holds up as a shining example of how life is never quite what we want it to be, no matter how hard we try.

It isn’t my favourite of his books, but I still like it. It’s full of all the wonderful observations that make Coupland what he is, but there’s definitely a lot more sadness here than has appeared before in his work. As Coupland ages, so do his characters, and so do the messages, although the one message that never changes is simply that: nothing really changes unless you make it change.

If you want to read more of my writing, my debut novel The Atomic Blood-stained Bus is available to download from Amazon, iTunes and all other ebook retailers.