JPod by Douglas Coupland (Random House Canada), 517 pages, $34.95 cloth. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Wicked humor is Douglas Coupland's most prominently displayed strength in JPod, an account of the lives of six West Van game designers whose last names all start with J.
Stuck in the same pod through an odd bureaucratic fluke, they form a micro-culture apart from the corporation for which they design a skateboarding turtle character with the personality of Survivor host Jeff Probst.
Ethan Jarlewski is a young, hapless I.T. guy trapped in a dysfunctional Vancouver family. His mother, a strait-laced homemaker, runs a basement grow op, and his father's an ex-professional turned actor on a dismal quest for his first speaking role.
Meanwhile, his brother, supposedly in real estate, leaves 20 Chinese refugees at Ethan's apartment, expecting him to feed and house them.
Ethan's work is his home away from home, a place where his like-minded pod denizens provide a zone of temporary comfort. Each has as much baggage Ethan - one had a traumatic upbringing in a lesbian separatist commune - but together they prod each other into acts of geek bonding like writing smutty letters to Ronald McDonald or finding the single wrong digit in a printout of the first 10,000 digits of .
The novel's true hero, however, is Chinese gangster Kam Fong, Ethan's older brother's business associate. Dressed in what Coupland describes as Kid Robot chic with a shattered hairdo, the amoral Fong insinuates himself into Ethan's company and family while maintaining his string of horrifying international businesses.
Coupland inserts himself into the narrative, appearing in the industrial hinterlands of the new China to lead Ethan and his co-workers toward the story's ambiguous conclusion.
Does the book have a happy ending? It's hard to say.
What is happiness in the moral grey zone of this evil and very funny narrative novel?
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