Reading Douglas Coupland makes me feel like my life isn't really so bad. Yeah, it's fiction, but still. Whether it's a bunch of slacker losers, a woman in an age-long coma or a fucked-up family plagued with terminal illnesses, Coupland's characters are almost always ridiculously downtrodden and way worse off than you.
In the case of Hey Nostradamus!, the long-suffering person in question is Jason Klaasen, who held his dying, pregnant girlfriend in his arms after a high school massacre and has, of course, never been the same since.
Coupland has become a master of suspense and pacing. Hey Nostradamus! is a cannily crafted page-turner. There's always the feeling that something is just around the bend: catharsis, comprehension, a good plot twist.
And the characters - Jason, his pious Benedict Arnold brother, their abusive religious zealot father, Cheryl, the dead girl - are so finely chiselled that reading about them is like running your fingers over the faces of flawless marble statues, cool to the touch.
The story is riveting, with just enough fucked-up touches to make it surreally believable.
Some moments are just a tad too poetic, the thoughts of characters just a bit too crafted - thoughts like prose rather than prose like thoughts. And as with every Coupland book, there came a moment when I just had to roll my eyes and think, "Oh, come on! Can we pull our heads out of your little ass and get on with it?"
But I still turned the page, because this is an excellent, skilfully written story.
While Coupland can be thought-provoking, he never seems to be able to end a book well. Sometimes, as in All Families Are Psychotic or Girlfriend In A Coma, the ending is downright stupid. Here, it's just unsatisfying, like climbing a mountain on a foggy day.
But the walk was nice. So like life, I guess Hey Nostradamus! is a journey, not a destination.
Coupland reads at the Berkeley Church on Monday (September 22). See Readings, page 75.
Hey Nostradamus! by Douglas Coupland (Random House), 244 pages, $34.95 cloth. Rating: NNN