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All Families are Psychotic

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The most disastrous family reunion in the history of fiction.

The Drummond family descends upon the state of Florida, cutting a swath through Disney World, Cape Canaveral, the swamps and the highways, gathering to watch the launch into space of their beloved daughter and sister, Sarah. What should be a cause for celebration becomes instead the impetus for a series of mishaps and coincidences that place them in constant peril. In a family where gunplay, black market negotiations ...

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All Families are Psychotic

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Overview

The most disastrous family reunion in the history of fiction.

The Drummond family descends upon the state of Florida, cutting a swath through Disney World, Cape Canaveral, the swamps and the highways, gathering to watch the launch into space of their beloved daughter and sister, Sarah. What should be a cause for celebration becomes instead the impetus for a series of mishaps and coincidences that place them in constant peril. In a family where gunplay, black market negotiations and kidnapping are all part of an afternoon in the sun, you can only imagine what happens when things take a turn for the worse.

As the family spins dangerously out of control, the story unfolds at a lightning-fast pace. With one plot twist after the other, the Drummonds fall apart and come together in the most unexpected ways.

Heartwarming and maddeningly human, the family Coupland creates is like one you've never seen before-with the possible exception of your own.

As the family spins dangerously out of control, the story unfolds at a lightning-fast pace. With one twist after another, the Drummonds fall apart and come together in the most unexpected ways.

Heartwarming and maddeningly human, the family Coupland creates is like one you've never seen before - with the possible exception of your own.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
Sometimes the only difference between drugstore novels and Shakespeare is the level of writing. For all their wit and intelligence, Shakespeare's plays have more in common with the plotlines for Days of Our Lives than you would outwardly think. Douglas Coupland, author of Girlfriend in a Coma and Generation X, knows this. His seventh novel, All Families are Psychotic, is a nightmarish, sardonic soap opera about one battered family that falls somewhere between Valley of the Dolls and All's Well That Ends Well.

The fractured Drummonds have just descended upon Orlando, Florida -- like a swarm of flies on fresh roadkill -- for one hell of a family reunion. The baby of the family, Sarah, a one-handed astronaut, is preparing to be launched into space. What should be a cause for celebration, however, is the impetus for scratching familial scabs. Janet, the 65-year old matriarch with a penchant for sex chat rooms and cheap hotels, is dying. The previous year, the philandering eldest son, Wade, met a beautiful redhead in an airport and had a brief midday fling. Unbeknownst to him, the woman was his father, Ted's, new trophy wife, Nickie. When daddy dearest found out, he tracked his son down at Janet's home and shot him, but the bullet cut clean through Wade and entered Janet's lung. Wade, we find out later, has AIDS and has infected not only his mother, via his blood on the bullet, but also Nickie. And then there's Brian, the youngest brother, an unlucky, brooding man who has unsuccessfully attempted suicide three times, and his radical burn-down-big-business pregnant girlfriend, Shw (that's right, Shw -- no vowels). What ensues when all these volatile folks mix it up in the state of Florida is an outlandish and mordantly funny story that involves a black-market baby, a kidnapping, a letter from Prince Charles, and -- believe it or not -- second chances.

Coupland is by far one of our most astute writers -- someone who has his finger on the deathly faint pulse of contemporary society. Though All Families Are Psychotic sounds like a deep foray into the absurd, it is really a novel about healing, the fragility of our relationships with those we love and hate the most, and the all-too-familiar desire for acceptance and redemption. Yes, the world can be a nasty place, but sometimes it's our own internal worlds that do the most damage -- and sometimes you need those psychos in your family to get you through it. (Stephen Bloom)

From the Publisher
"[Coupland's] best novel to date."—LA Weekly

"...a powerful, redemptive story..." —The Miami Herald

"Coupland has taken a great leap forward...both the novel and its characters are distinctly heartfelt and oddly endearing..." —Ruminator Review

"Coupland hits the mark with his usual exceptional writing and perceptive eye." —Nancy Olson, Quail Ridge Books

"Coupland is back and better than ever with a roller coaster ride of a book...I thoroughly enjoyed the ride.' —Allison Hill, Book Soup

"It's an extraordinarily well-written novel with characters you know you shouldn't be liking but do. So real." —Whoopi Goldberg

From The Critics
Coupland's latest book intends to parody dysfunctional fiction, but its title isn't true of the author's invented family, the Drummonds. Mother Janet contracted AIDS from her fortysomething son Wade when his father, Ted, who now has prostate cancer, shot Wade for having sex with his stepmother and the bullet passed through Wade to infect Janet. Stepmother Nicole also has AIDS and Wade's brother Bryan has attempted suicide three times. No one has enough money. Gathered together in Florida to watch the only Drummond success, Sarah, be launched into space (where she plans weightless sex with the mission commander), most of the family members involve themselves in a goofy plot to sell DNA stolen from the British royal family to a pharmaceutical billionaire. Coupland wants a laugh every five sentences and sacrifices plausibility to get it. By the time he decides to try injecting some empathy, it's too late. The most believable character, Janet, says, "We're people, not cartoons," but her assertion can't reverse what the author has done to her family. Although he ultimately gives them miracle cures, Coupland never manages to give them life.
—Tom LeClair

Publishers Weekly
The Drummond family at the center of Coupland's new novel resembles a month's worth of soap opera plots. Wade Drummond and his mother, Janet, both have AIDS. Janet, 65, was infected when her ex-husband, Ted, shot Wade through the side of his stomach and the bullet lodged in Janet's lung. Ted shot Wade because his son had accidentally had sex with Ted's second wife, Nickie. In consequence, Nickie is also HIV positive. Wade's brother, Bryan, a frequently suicidal musician, has hooked up with the self-named Shw, a young anarchist. Shw has told Bryan she wants to abort her baby, but secretly she is planning to sell it to Lloyd and Gale, a seemingly normal Florida couple with kinky secrets. Now, all the Drummonds are having a family reunion in Orlando. They are gathered to support Sarah, the successful member of the family, as she is about to be shot into space. Although slightly crippled, being a thalidomide baby, Susan has made a career as a scientist and an astronaut. Her bland husband, Howie, is covertly sleeping with Alanna, the wife of Gordon Brunswick, Sarah's mission commander and Sarah is secretly having an affair with Gordon. The item that sets this crew in motion is a letter from Prince William left on Princess Diana's coffin. It has somehow come into possession of a sleazeball named Norm, who wants Wade and Ted to convey it to a billionaire Anglophile based in the Bahamas. Complications, naturally, ensue. Like Chuck Palahniuk, Coupland mines tabloid territory for sensationalism, which he then undermines with ironic self-awareness. The can-you-top-this atmosphere will keep Coupland's Gen-X readers (the ones who religiously watch Cops for the laughs) totally amused. Author tour.(Sept.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
You may think that your family is the most psychotic, but meet the Drummonds: shady errand-runner Wade, the oldest, is HIV-positive and has infected his mother, Janet, in a scenario too complicated to relate here; paterfamilias Ted has prostate cancer but clings to his virility via trophy wife Nickie, who is also HIV-positive; born-loser Bryan has impregnated hippie hell-child, Shw; and baby sister Sarah, the seemingly normal one, is about to undertake a space mission for NASA. Coupland, who dubbed the post-boomer babies "Generation X" with his book of the same name, continues his sociological study here. Divorce has dented the Drummond children, who grew up in the 1970s, as well as their parents, but in Coupland's contemporary America that makes them all the more vulnerable to reunions. Unbelievably awful and miraculous things happen in the days leading up to Sarah's launch in Florida, where they all convene, but the subplots descend into lame-brained slapstick. As anyone in a psychotic family can tell you, chaos is often predictable, and it is here. The vignettes on Janet, who, at 65, has recently broken out of the 1950s wife mold in which she was cast, add some needed depth, but it's not enough to take readers to the moon and back. For larger collections. Heather McCormack, "Library Journal" Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A thin, occasionally maudlin poke at the pharmaceutical industry. The Zeitgeist-defining novelist who tagged his rudderless contemporaries Generation X (1991) is now 40 but still feels his characters' pain. Here, plucky 67-year-old matriarch Janet presides over the discombobulated Drummond clan-two freaky sons, one square daughter, numerous dotty spouses, and a mean ex-husband-as it gathers in sweltering midsummer Orlando for the launch of a NASA shuttle carrying Sarah Drummond-Fournier. The much-admired astronaut was a born with one hand, thanks to the thalidomide her mother took during pregnancy, and the ironies roll on as Internet-savvy Janet reveals she is taking the drug again for mouth ulcers caused by AIDS. How did she get the dread disease? A bullet meant for seropositive son Wade (shot by his enraged, drunken father Ted) penetrated her body after passing through Wade's. Meanwhile, as Coupland continues to pile on the action, much of it slapstick, Wade, equally clueless brother Bryan, and dipsomaniac Ted-all in need of some quick cash- descend on Disney World to meet up with one of Wade's lowlife buddies. He enlists them as couriers of a letter stolen from Princess Diana's coffin that they're to deliver to Florian, the Swiss head of Buckingham Pest Control in the Bahamas. Florian also runs one of the world's biggest pharmaceutical firms, and after dinner with Janet, who carries a pillbox "the size of a sewing kit," he cures her by clasping her bleeding hand to that of an immune Ugandan prostitute stolen from the Centers for Disease Control. The author just wants everyone to get along, but his sympathies evidently lie with 42-year-old loser Wade, pregnant women, and Janet. Withthis "pure and crud-proof" mom at the helm, he suggests, even the ill-starred Drummonds are not without hope. Little evocative description, even less character development: this time out, Coupland settles for improbable adventures inspired by middle-of-the-night channel surfing.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781582341651
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
  • Publication date: 9/15/2001
  • Edition description: 1ST US
  • Pages: 356
  • Product dimensions: 6.12 (w) x 10.00 (h) x 1.11 (d)

Meet the Author

Douglas Coupland was born on a Canadian Armed Forces Base in Baden-Söllingen, Germany in 1961. He is the author of Miss Wyoming, Generation X, All Families are Psychotic, and Girlfriend in a Coma, among others. He attended the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design, the Hokkaido College of Art and Design, Instituto Europeo di Design, and the Japan/America Institute of Management Science.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One
Janet opened her eyes — Florida's prehistoric glare dazzled outside the motel window. A dog barked; a car honked; a man was singing a snatch of a Spanish song. She absentmindedly touched the scar from the bullet wound beneath her left rib cage, a scar that had healed over, bumpy and formless and hard, like a piece of gum stuck beneath a tabletop. She hadn't expected her flesh to have healed so blandly — What was I expecting, a scar shaped like an American flag?
Janet's forehead flushed: My children — where are they? She did a rapid-fire tally of the whereabouts of her three children, a ritual she'd enacted daily since the birth of Wade back in 1958. Once she'd mentally placed her offspring in their geographic slots, she remembered to breathe: They're all going to be here in Orlando today.
She looked at the motel's bedside clock: 7:03 A.M. Pill o'clock. She took two capsules from her prescription pill caddie and swallowed them with tap water gone flat overnight, which now tasted like nickels and pennies. It registered on her that motel rooms now came equipped with coffee makers. What a sensible idea, so bloody sensible — why didn't they do this years ago? Why is all the good stuff happening now?
A few days back, on the phone, her daughter, Sarah, had said, 'Mom, at least buy Evian, OK? The tap water in that heap is probably laced with crack. I can't believe you chose to stay there.'
'But dear, I don't mind it here.'
'Go stay at the Peabody with the rest of the family. I've told you a hundred times I'll pay.'
'That's not the point, dear. A hotel really ought not cost more than this.'
'Mom, NASA cuts deals with the hotels, and ...' Sarah made a puff of air, acknowledging defeat. 'Forget it. But I think you're too well off to be pulling your Third World routine.'
Sarah — so cavalier with money! — as were the two others. None had known poverty, and they'd never known war, but the advantage hadn't made them golden, and Janet had never gotten over this fact. A life of abundance had turned her two boys into an element other than gold — lead? — silicon? — bismuth? But then Sarah — Sarah was an element finer than gold — carbon crystallized as diamond — a bolt of lightning frozen in midflash, sliced into strips, and stored in a vault.
Janet's phone rang and she answered it: Wade, calling from an Orange County lock-up facility. Janet imagined Wade in a drab concrete hallway, unshaven and disheveled, yet still radiating 'the glint' — the spark in the eye he'd inherited from his father. Bryan didn't have it and Sarah didn't need it, but Wade had glinted his way through life, and maybe it hadn't been the best attribute to inherit after all.
Wade: Janet remembered being back home, and driving along Marine Drive in the morning, watching a certain type of man waiting for a bus to take him downtown. He'd be slightly seedy and one or two notches short of respectability; it was always patently clear he'd lost his driver's license after a DWI, but this only made him more interesting, and whenever Janet smiled at one of these men from her car, they fired a smile right back. And that was Wade and, in some unflossed cranny of her memory, her ex-husband, Ted.
'Dear, aren't you too old to be calling me from — jail? Even saying the word "jail" feels silly.'
'Mom, I don't do bad stuff any more. This was a fluke.'
'Okay then, what happened — did you accidentally drive a busload of Girl Guides into the Everglades?'
'It was a bar brawl, Mom.'
Janet repeated this: 'A bar brawl.'
'I know, I know — you think I don't know how idiotic that sounds? I'm phoning because I need a ride away from this dump. My rental car's back at the bar.'
'Where's Beth? Why doesn't she drive you?'
'She gets in early this afternoon.'
'OK. Well, let's go back a step, dear. How exactly does one get into a bar brawl?'
'You wouldn't believe me if I told you.'
'You'd be amazed what I'm believing these days. Try me.'
There was a pause on the other end. 'I got in a fight because this guy — this jerk — was making fun of God.'
'God.' He can't be serious.
'Yeah, well, he was.'
'In what way?'
'He was being so nasty about it, saying, "God's an asshole," and "God doesn't care about squat," and he kept on going on and on, and I had to put a stop to it. I think he got fired that day.'
'You were defending God's honor?'
'Yeah. I was.'
Tread carefully here, Janet. 'Wade, I know Beth is very religious. Are you becoming religious, too?'
'Me? Maybe. Nah. Yes. No. It depends on how you define religious. It keeps Beth calm, and maybe ...' Wade paused. 'Maybe it can calm me, too.'
'So you spent the night in jail, then?'
'Safely in the arms of a four-hundred-pound convenience store thief named Bubba.'
'Wade, I can't pick you up. I think it's going to be one of those no-energy days. And besides, the car I rented smells like a carpet in a frat house — and the roads down here, they're white, and the glare makes me sleepy.'
'Mom, come on ...'
'Don't be such a baby. You're forty-two. Act it. You couldn't even get to the hotel in time yesterday.'
'I was making a quick detour to visit a friend in Tampa. I stopped for a drink. Hey — don't treat me like I'm Bryan. It wasn't like I started the fight or ...'
'Stop! Stop right there. Call a cab.'
'I'm short on cash.'
'Simple cab fare? Then how are you paying for the hotel?'
Wade was silent.
'Wade?'
'Sarah's covering it for us until we can pay it back.' An awkward silence followed.
'Mom, you could pick me up if you really wanted to. I know you could.'
'Yes, I suppose I could. But I think you should phone your father down in ... what's that place called?'
'Kissimmee — and I already did call him.'
'And?'
'He's gone marlin fishing with Nickie.'
'Marlin fishing? People still do that?'
'I don't know. I guess. I thought they were extinct. They probably have a guy in a wet suit who attaches a big plastic marlin onto their line.'
'Marlins are so ugly. They remind me of basement rec rooms that people built in 1958 and never used again.'
'I know. It's hard to imagine they ever existed in the first place.'
'So he's out marlin fishing with Nickie then?'
'Yeah. With Nickie.'
'That cheesy slut.'
'Mom?'
'Wade, I'm not a saint. I've been holding stuff inside me for decades — girls my age were trained to do that, and it's why we all have colitis. Besides, a dash of spicy language is refreshing every so often. Just yesterday I was hunting for information on vitamin D derivatives on the Internet, and suddenly, doink! I land in the Anal Love website. I'm looking at a cheerleader in a leather harness on the —'
'Mom, how can you visit sites like that?'
'Wade, may I remind you that you are standing in a human Dumpster somewhere in Orlando, yet hearing a sixty-five-year-old woman discuss the Internet over a pay phone shocks you? You wouldn't believe the sites I've visited. And the chat rooms, too. I'm not always Janet Drummond, you know.'
'Mom, why are you telling me this?'
'Oh, forget it. And your stepmother, Nickie, is still a cheesy slut. Phone Howie — maybe he can come fetch you.'
'Howie's so boring he makes me almost pass out. I can't believe Sarah married such a blank.'
'I'm the one who gave birth to her, and I'm the one who has to drive with him to Cape Canaveral today.'
'Ooh — bummer. Another NASA do?'
'Yes. And you're welcome to come along.'
'Wait a second, Mom — why aren't you at the Peabody with everybody else? What are you staying in a motel for? By the way, it took thirty rings for the clerk — who, I might add, sounded like a kidney thief — to answer the phone.'
'Wade, you're changing the subject. Phone Howie. Oh wait — I think I hear somebody at the door.' Janet held the phone at arm's length from her head, and said, 'Knock knock knock knock.'
'Very funny, Mom.'
'I have to answer the door, Wade.'
'That's really funny. I —'
Click
The motel room made her feel slightly too transient, but it was a bargain, and that turned the minuses into pluses. Nonetheless, Janet missed her morning waking-up rituals in her own bedroom. She touched her body gently and methodically, as though she were at the bank counting a stack of twenties. She gently rubbed a set of ulcers on her lips' insides, still there, same as the day before, not just a dream. Her hands probed further downward — no lumps in her breasts, not today — but then what had Sarah told her? We've all had cancer thousands of times, Mom, but in all those thousands of times your body removed it. It's lazy bookkeeping to only count the cancers that stick. You and I could have cancer right now, but tomorrow it might be gone.
The motel room smelled like a lifetime of cigarettes. She looked at Sarah's photo in the Miami Herald beside the phone, a standard NASA PR crew photo: an upper body shot against a navy ice-cream swirl background and complexion-flattering lighting that made one suspect a noble, scientific disdain for cosmetics. Sarah clutched a helmet underneath her right arm. Her left arm, handless, rested by her side: Space knows no limitations.
Janet sighed. She twiddled her toes. Ten minutes later her phone rang again: Sarah calling from the Cape.
'Hi, Mom. I just spoke to Howie. He'll go pick up Wade.'
'Good morning, Sarah. How's your day?'
'This morning we had a zero-G evacuation test, but what I really wanted to do was sit in a nice quiet bathroom and test out a new brand of pore-cleansing strips. The humidity in these suits is giving me killer blackheads. They never talked about that in those old Life magazine photo essays. Have you eaten yet?'
'No.'
'Come eat at the Cape with me. We can have dehydrated astronaut's ice cream out of a shiny Mylar bag.'
Janet sat up on her bed and pulled her legs over the side. She felt her skin — her meat — hanging from her bones as though it were so much water-logged clothing. She needed to pee. She began to meter her words as she eyed the bathroom door. 'I don't think so, dear. The only time they ever allow me to have with you are three seconds for a photo op.'
Sarah asked, 'Is Beth arriving today?'
Beth was Wade's wife. 'Later this afternoon. I think I'm going to dinner with the two of them.'
'How far along is she?'
'I think this is her fourth month. It may even be a Christmas baby.'
'Huh. I see.'
'Something wrong, Sarah?'
'It's just that —'
'What?'
'Mom, how could Wade marry ... her. She's so priggish and born-again. I always thought Wade would marry Miss Roller Derby. Beth is so frigging sanctimonious.'
'She keeps him alive.'
'I guess she does. When does Bryan arrive?'
'He and his girlfriend are already here. He called from the Peabody.'
'Girlfriend? Bryan? What's her name?'
'If I tell you, you won't believe me.'
'It can't be that bad. Is it one of those made-up names like DawnElle or Kerrissa or CindaJo?'
'Worse.'
'What could be worse?'
'Shw.'
'I beg your pardon?'
'Shw. That's her name: Shw.'
'Spell that for me.'
'S. H. W.'
'And?'
'There's no vowel, if that's what you're waiting for.'
'What — her name is Shw? Am I pronouncing that properly?'
'I'm afraid so.'
'That is the most ... impractical name I've ever heard. Is she from Sri Lanka or Finland or something?'
Janet's eye lingered on the bathroom door and the toilet beyond. 'As far as I know she's from Alberta. Bryan worships her, and she's also knocked up like a prom queen.'
'Bryan's pregnant? How come I don't know any of this?'
'I just met her last week myself, dear. She seems to rather like me, though she treats everybody else like dirt. So I don't mind her at all, really.'
'Bryan is such a freak. I'm not going to be able to keep a straight face, you know — when she tells me her name, that is.'
Janet said, 'Shw!'
Sarah giggled.
'Shw! Shw! Shw!'
Sarah laughed. 'Is she pretty?'
'Sort of. She's also about eighteen and an angry little hornet. In the fifties we would have called her a pixie. Nowadays we'd call her hyperthyroid. She's bug-eyed.'
'Where'd they meet?'
'Seattle. She helped Bryan set fire — I believe — to a stack of pastel-colored waffle-knit T-shirts in a Gap — back during the World Trade Organization riots. They were separated, then a few months ago they met again destroying a test facility growing genetically modified runner beans.'
Janet could sense Sarah changing gears; she was finished discussing the family. Next would come business-like matters: 'Well, good for Bryan. You're OK for today's NASA gig?'
'Still.'
'Howie will pick you up at 9:30, after he picks up my darling brother. By the way, Dad's broke.'
'That doesn't surprise me. I'd heard he'd lost his job.'
'I tried to loan him some money, but he, of course, said no. Not that there's much to loan. Howie lost the bulk of our savings in some website that sells products for pets. I could strangle him.'
'Oh dear.' It's so easy to fall into the mother mode.
'Tell me about it. Hey, when was the last time you even saw Dad?'
'Half a year ago. By accident at Super-Valu.'
'Tense?'
'I can handle him.'
'Good. See you there.'
'Yes, dear.'
Click
On the walkway outside her room, Janet heard children mewling as they set off to Walt Disney World with their families. She walked to the bathroom across a floor made lunar from eons of cigarette burns and various stains better left uninvestigated. She thought of serial murderers using acids to dissolve the teeth and jawbones of their victims.
She unsuspectingly caught sight of herself in a floor-length mirror by the sink and the sight stopped her cold. Yes, Janet, that's correct: you are shrinking — sinew by sinew, protein molecule by protein molecule you are turning into an ... an elf, yes, you, Janet Drummond, once voted 'Girl We'd Rob a Bank For.'
She was transfixed by the view of herself in a blue nightie, as if she were once again young and this image had been delivered to her from the future as a warning — If I squint I can still see the cool immaculate housewife I once dreamed of becoming. I'm Elizabeth Montgomery starring in Bewitched. I'm Dina Merrill lunching at the Museum of Modern Art with Christina Ford.
Oh forget it
. She peed, showered, dried and then modified those traces of time's passage on her face that she could.
There. I'm not so bad after all. A man might still rob a bank for me, and men still do flirt — not too frequently — and older men perhaps — but the look in the eyes never changes.
She dressed, and five minutes later she was a block away sitting in a Denny's reading a paper. The North American weather map on the rear page was a rich, unhealthy crimson, with only a small strip of cool green running up the coast from Seattle to Alaska. Outside the restaurant window the sun on the parking lot made the area seem like a science experiment. She realized she no longer cared about the weather. Next.
Back in her motel room, she lay down on the bed haunted by a thousand sex acts. OK — this place is creepy but at least I'm not throwing away money. Her lips were sore to the point that speech was painful, and it hurt to exhale. Her pill buzzer buzzed; she sat up. She reached into her purse and removed a prescription bottle. She turned on the TV, and there was Sarah being interviewed on CNN. As always, her daughter looked glowingly pretty on TV, like a nun who'd never touched makeup.
— Do you think you and children like you, born with damage caused by thalidomide, have other messages to tell the world?
— Of course. We were the canaries in the coal mine. We were the first children born in which it was proved that chemicals from the outside world — in our case thalidomide — could severely damage the human embryo. These days, most mothers don't smoke or drink during pregnancy. They know that the outer world can enter their babies and cause damage. But in my mother's generation, they didn't know this. They smoked and drank and took any number of medications without thinking twice. Now we know better, and as a species we're smarter as a result — we're aware of teratogens.
— Teratogens?
— Yes. It means 'monster forming'. A horrible word, but then the world can be a horrible place. They're the chemicals that cross the placenta and affect a child's growth in utero.
The host turned to the camera: 'Time for a quick break. I've been speaking with Sarah Drummond-Fournier, a one-handed woman, and one heck of a fighter, who'll be on Friday's shuttle flight. We'll be right back.'
How on earth did I give birth to such a child? I understand nothing about her life. Nothing. And yet she's the spitting image of me, and she's gallivanting up into space. Janet remembered how much she'd wanted to help the young Sarah with her homework, and Sarah's polite-but-resigned invitations to come do so when Janet popped her head into Sarah's doorway. Invariably Janet would look down at the papers that might as well have been in Chinese. Janet would ask a few concerned questions about Sarah's teachers, and then plead kitchen duty, beating a hasty retreat.
She turned off the TV.
She once cared about everything, and if she couldn't muster genuine concern, she could easily fake it: too much rain stunting the petunias; her children's scrapes; stick figure Africans; the plight of marine mammals. She considered herself one of the surviving members of a lost generation, the last generation raised to care about appearances or doing the right thing — to care about caring. She had been born in 1934 in Toronto, a city then much like Chicago or Rochester or Detroit — bland, methodical, thrifty and rules-playing. Her father, William Truro, managed the furniture and household appliance department of the downtown Eaton's department store. William's wife, Kaye, was, well ... William's wife.
The two raised Janet and her older brother, Gerald, on $29.50 a week until 1938, when a salary decrease lowered William's pay to $27 a week, and jam vanished from the Truro breakfast table, the absence of which became Janet's first memory. After the jam, the rest of Janet's life seemed to have been an ongoing reduction — things that had once been essential vanishing without discussion, or even worse, with too much discussion.
Seasons changed. Sweaters became ragged, were patched up and became ragged again, and were grudgingly thrown out. A few flowers were grown in the thin band of dirt in front of the brick row house, species scavenged by Kaye for their value as dried flowers, which scrimped an extra few months' worth of utility from them. Life seemed to be entirely about scrimping. In fall of 1938, Gerald died of polio. In 1939 the war began and Canada was in it from the start, and scrimping kicked into overdrive: bacon fat, tin cans, rubber — all material objects — were scrimp-worthy. Janet's most enjoyable childhood memories were of sorting neighborhood trash in the alleys, in search of crown jewels, metal fragments and love notes from dying princes. During the war, houses in her neighborhood grew dingy — paint became a luxury. When she was six, Janet walked into the kitchen and found her father kissing her mother passionately. They saw Janet standing there, a small, chubby, fuddled Campbell's Soup kid, and they broke apart, blushed, and the incident was never spoken of again. The glimpse was her only evidence of passion until womanhood.
An hour passed and Janet looked at the bedside clock: almost 9:30, and Howie would have already picked up Wade by now. Janet walked down to the hotel's covered breezeway to wait for her son-in-law. A day of boredom loomed.
Then, pow! she was angry all of a sudden. She was angry because she was unable to remember and reexperience her life as a continuous movie-like event. There were only bits of punctuation here and there — the kiss, the jam, the dried flowers — which, when assembled, made Janet who she was — yet there seemed to be no divine logic behind the assemblage. Or any flow. All those bits were merely ... bits. But there had to be logic. How could the small, chubby child of 1940 imagine that one day she'd be in Florida seeing her own daughter launched into outer space? Tiny little Sarah, who was set to circle the Earth hundreds of times. We didn't even think about outer space in 1939. Space didn't exist yet.
She removed a black felt Sharpie pen from her purse, and wrote the word 'laryngitis' on a folded piece of paper. For the remainder of the day she wouldn't have to speak to anybody she didn't want to.
I wonder if Howie is going to be late? No — Howie's not the late type.

Excerpted from All Families are Psychotic by Douglas Coupland. Copyright © 2001 by Douglas Coupland. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Chapter One
Janet opened her eyes — Florida's prehistoric glare dazzled outside the motel window. A dog barked; a car honked; a man was singing a snatch of a Spanish song. She absentmindedly touched the scar from the bullet wound beneath her left rib cage, a scar that had healed over, bumpy and formless and hard, like a piece of gum stuck beneath a tabletop. She hadn't expected her flesh to have healed so blandly — What was I expecting, a scar shaped like an American flag?
Janet's forehead flushed: My children — where are they? She did a rapid-fire tally of the whereabouts of her three children, a ritual she'd enacted daily since the birth of Wade back in 1958. Once she'd mentally placed her offspring in their geographic slots, she remembered to breathe: They're all going to be here in Orlando today.
She looked at the motel's bedside clock: 7:03 A.M. Pill o'clock. She took two capsules from her prescription pill caddie and swallowed them with tap water gone flat overnight, which now tasted like nickels and pennies. It registered on her that motel rooms now came equipped with coffee makers. What a sensible idea, so bloody sensible — why didn't they do this years ago? Why is all the good stuff happening now?
A few days back, on the phone, her daughter, Sarah, had said, 'Mom, at least buy Evian, OK? The tap water in that heap is probably laced with crack. I can't believe you chose to stay there.'
'But dear, I don't mind it here.'
'Go stay at the Peabody with the rest of the family. I've told you a hundred times I'll pay.'
'That's not the point, dear. A hotel really ought not cost more than this.'
'Mom, NASA cuts deals with the hotels, and ...' Sarah made a puff of air, acknowledging defeat. 'Forget it. But I think you're too well off to be pulling your Third World routine.'
Sarah — so cavalier with money! — as were the two others. None had known poverty, and they'd never known war, but the advantage hadn't made them golden, and Janet had never gotten over this fact. A life of abundance had turned her two boys into an element other than gold — lead? — silicon? — bismuth? But then Sarah — Sarah was an element finer than gold — carbon crystallized as diamond — a bolt of lightning frozen in midflash, sliced into strips, and stored in a vault.
Janet's phone rang and she answered it: Wade, calling from an Orange County lock-up facility. Janet imagined Wade in a drab concrete hallway, unshaven and disheveled, yet still radiating 'the glint' — the spark in the eye he'd inherited from his father. Bryan didn't have it and Sarah didn't need it, but Wade had glinted his way through life, and maybe it hadn't been the best attribute to inherit after all.
Wade: Janet remembered being back home, and driving along Marine Drive in the morning, watching a certain type of man waiting for a bus to take him downtown. He'd be slightly seedy and one or two notches short of respectability; it was always patently clear he'd lost his driver's license after a DWI, but this only made him more interesting, and whenever Janet smiled at one of these men from her car, they fired a smile right back. And that was Wade and, in some unflossed cranny of her memory, her ex-husband, Ted.
'Dear, aren't you too old to be calling me from — jail? Even saying the word "jail" feels silly.'
'Mom, I don't do bad stuff any more. This was a fluke.'
'Okay then, what happened — did you accidentally drive a busload of Girl Guides into the Everglades?'
'It was a bar brawl, Mom.'
Janet repeated this: 'A bar brawl.'
'I know, I know — you think I don't know how idiotic that sounds? I'm phoning because I need a ride away from this dump. My rental car's back at the bar.'
'Where's Beth? Why doesn't she drive you?'
'She gets in early this afternoon.'
'OK. Well, let's go back a step, dear. How exactly does one get into a bar brawl?'
'You wouldn't believe me if I told you.'
'You'd be amazed what I'm believing these days. Try me.'
There was a pause on the other end. 'I got in a fight because this guy — this jerk — was making fun of God.'
'God.' He can't be serious.
'Yeah, well, he was.'
'In what way?'
'He was being so nasty about it, saying, "God's an asshole," and "God doesn't care about squat," and he kept on going on and on, and I had to put a stop to it. I think he got fired that day.'
'You were defending God's honor?'
'Yeah. I was.'
Tread carefully here, Janet. 'Wade, I know Beth is very religious. Are you becoming religious, too?'
'Me? Maybe. Nah. Yes. No. It depends on how you define religious. It keeps Beth calm, and maybe ...' Wade paused. 'Maybe it can calm me, too.'
'So you spent the night in jail, then?'
'Safely in the arms of a four-hundred-pound convenience store thief named Bubba.'
'Wade, I can't pick you up. I think it's going to be one of those no-energy days. And besides, the car I rented smells like a carpet in a frat house — and the roads down here, they're white, and the glare makes me sleepy.'
'Mom, come on ...'
'Don't be such a baby. You're forty-two. Act it. You couldn't even get to the hotel in time yesterday.'
'I was making a quick detour to visit a friend in Tampa. I stopped for a drink. Hey — don't treat me like I'm Bryan. It wasn't like I started the fight or ...'
'Stop! Stop right there. Call a cab.'
'I'm short on cash.'
'Simple cab fare? Then how are you paying for the hotel?'
Wade was silent.
'Wade?'
'Sarah's covering it for us until we can pay it back.' An awkward silence followed.
'Mom, you could pick me up if you really wanted to. I know you could.'
'Yes, I suppose I could. But I think you should phone your father down in ... what's that place called?'
'Kissimmee — and I already did call him.'
'And?'
'He's gone marlin fishing with Nickie.'
'Marlin fishing? People still do that?'
'I don't know. I guess. I thought they were extinct. They probably have a guy in a wet suit who attaches a big plastic marlin onto their line.'
'Marlins are so ugly. They remind me of basement rec rooms that people built in 1958 and never used again.'
'I know. It's hard to imagine they ever existed in the first place.'
'So he's out marlin fishing with Nickie then?'
'Yeah. With Nickie.'
'That cheesy slut.'
'Mom?'
'Wade, I'm not a saint. I've been holding stuff inside me for decades — girls my age were trained to do that, and it's why we all have colitis. Besides, a dash of spicy language is refreshing every so often. Just yesterday I was hunting for information on vitamin D derivatives on the Internet, and suddenly, doink! I land in the Anal Love website. I'm looking at a cheerleader in a leather harness on the —'
'Mom, how can you visit sites like that?'
'Wade, may I remind you that you are standing in a human Dumpster somewhere in Orlando, yet hearing a sixty-five-year-old woman discuss the Internet over a pay phone shocks you? You wouldn't believe the sites I've visited. And the chat rooms, too. I'm not always Janet Drummond, you know.'
'Mom, why are you telling me this?'
'Oh, forget it. And your stepmother, Nickie, is still a cheesy slut. Phone Howie — maybe he can come fetch you.'
'Howie's so boring he makes me almost pass out. I can't believe Sarah married such a blank.'
'I'm the one who gave birth to her, and I'm the one who has to drive with him to Cape Canaveral today.'
'Ooh — bummer. Another NASA do?'
'Yes. And you're welcome to come along.'
'Wait a second, Mom — why aren't you at the Peabody with everybody else? What are you staying in a motel for? By the way, it took thirty rings for the clerk — who, I might add, sounded like a kidney thief — to answer the phone.'
'Wade, you're changing the subject. Phone Howie. Oh wait — I think I hear somebody at the door.' Janet held the phone at arm's length from her head, and said, 'Knock knock knock knock.'
'Very funny, Mom.'
'I have to answer the door, Wade.'
'That's really funny. I —'
Click
The motel room made her feel slightly too transient, but it was a bargain, and that turned the minuses into pluses. Nonetheless, Janet missed her morning waking-up rituals in her own bedroom. She touched her body gently and methodically, as though she were at the bank counting a stack of twenties. She gently rubbed a set of ulcers on her lips' insides, still there, same as the day before, not just a dream. Her hands probed further downward — no lumps in her breasts, not today — but then what had Sarah told her? We've all had cancer thousands of times, Mom, but in all those thousands of times your body removed it. It's lazy bookkeeping to only count the cancers that stick. You and I could have cancer right now, but tomorrow it might be gone.
The motel room smelled like a lifetime of cigarettes. She looked at Sarah's photo in the Miami Herald beside the phone, a standard NASA PR crew photo: an upper body shot against a navy ice-cream swirl background and complexion-flattering lighting that made one suspect a noble, scientific disdain for cosmetics. Sarah clutched a helmet underneath her right arm. Her left arm, handless, rested by her side: Space knows no limitations.
Janet sighed. She twiddled her toes. Ten minutes later her phone rang again: Sarah calling from the Cape.
'Hi, Mom. I just spoke to Howie. He'll go pick up Wade.'
'Good morning, Sarah. How's your day?'
'This morning we had a zero-G evacuation test, but what I really wanted to do was sit in a nice quiet bathroom and test out a new brand of pore-cleansing strips. The humidity in these suits is giving me killer blackheads. They never talked about that in those old Life magazine photo essays. Have you eaten yet?'
'No.'
'Come eat at the Cape with me. We can have dehydrated astronaut's ice cream out of a shiny Mylar bag.'
Janet sat up on her bed and pulled her legs over the side. She felt her skin — her meat — hanging from her bones as though it were so much water-logged clothing. She needed to pee. She began to meter her words as she eyed the bathroom door. 'I don't think so, dear. The only time they ever allow me to have with you are three seconds for a photo op.'
Sarah asked, 'Is Beth arriving today?'
Beth was Wade's wife. 'Later this afternoon. I think I'm going to dinner with the two of them.'
'How far along is she?'
'I think this is her fourth month. It may even be a Christmas baby.'
'Huh. I see.'
'Something wrong, Sarah?'
'It's just that —'
'What?'
'Mom, how could Wade marry ... her. She's so priggish and born-again. I always thought Wade would marry Miss Roller Derby. Beth is so frigging sanctimonious.'
'She keeps him alive.'
'I guess she does. When does Bryan arrive?'
'He and his girlfriend are already here. He called from the Peabody.'
'Girlfriend? Bryan? What's her name?'
'If I tell you, you won't believe me.'
'It can't be that bad. Is it one of those made-up names like DawnElle or Kerrissa or CindaJo?'
'Worse.'
'What could be worse?'
'Shw.'
'I beg your pardon?'
'Shw. That's her name: Shw.'
'Spell that for me.'
'S. H. W.'
'And?'
'There's no vowel, if that's what you're waiting for.'
'What — her name is Shw? Am I pronouncing that properly?'
'I'm afraid so.'
'That is the most ... impractical name I've ever heard. Is she from Sri Lanka or Finland or something?'
Janet's eye lingered on the bathroom door and the toilet beyond. 'As far as I know she's from Alberta. Bryan worships her, and she's also knocked up like a prom queen.'
'Bryan's pregnant? How come I don't know any of this?'
'I just met her last week myself, dear. She seems to rather like me, though she treats everybody else like dirt. So I don't mind her at all, really.'
'Bryan is such a freak. I'm not going to be able to keep a straight face, you know — when she tells me her name, that is.'
Janet said, 'Shw!'
Sarah giggled.
'Shw! Shw! Shw!'
Sarah laughed. 'Is she pretty?'
'Sort of. She's also about eighteen and an angry little hornet. In the fifties we would have called her a pixie. Nowadays we'd call her hyperthyroid. She's bug-eyed.'
'Where'd they meet?'
'Seattle. She helped Bryan set fire — I believe — to a stack of pastel-colored waffle-knit T-shirts in a Gap — back during the World Trade Organization riots. They were separated, then a few months ago they met again destroying a test facility growing genetically modified runner beans.'
Janet could sense Sarah changing gears; she was finished discussing the family. Next would come business-like matters: 'Well, good for Bryan. You're OK for today's NASA gig?'
'Still.'
'Howie will pick you up at 9:30, after he picks up my darling brother. By the way, Dad's broke.'
'That doesn't surprise me. I'd heard he'd lost his job.'
'I tried to loan him some money, but he, of course, said no. Not that there's much to loan. Howie lost the bulk of our savings in some website that sells products for pets. I could strangle him.'
'Oh dear.' It's so easy to fall into the mother mode.
'Tell me about it. Hey, when was the last time you even saw Dad?'
'Half a year ago. By accident at Super-Valu.'
'Tense?'
'I can handle him.'
'Good. See you there.'
'Yes, dear.'
Click
On the walkway outside her room, Janet heard children mewling as they set off to Walt Disney World with their families. She walked to the bathroom across a floor made lunar from eons of cigarette burns and various stains better left uninvestigated. She thought of serial murderers using acids to dissolve the teeth and jawbones of their victims.
She unsuspectingly caught sight of herself in a floor-length mirror by the sink and the sight stopped her cold. Yes, Janet, that's correct: you are shrinking — sinew by sinew, protein molecule by protein molecule you are turning into an ... an elf, yes, you, Janet Drummond, once voted 'Girl We'd Rob a Bank For.'
She was transfixed by the view of herself in a blue nightie, as if she were once again young and this image had been delivered to her from the future as a warning — If I squint I can still see the cool immaculate housewife I once dreamed of becoming. I'm Elizabeth Montgomery starring in Bewitched. I'm Dina Merrill lunching at the Museum of Modern Art with Christina Ford.
Oh forget it
. She peed, showered, dried and then modified those traces of time's passage on her face that she could.
There. I'm not so bad after all. A man might still rob a bank for me, and men still do flirt — not too frequently — and older men perhaps — but the look in the eyes never changes.
She dressed, and five minutes later she was a block away sitting in a Denny's reading a paper. The North American weather map on the rear page was a rich, unhealthy crimson, with only a small strip of cool green running up the coast from Seattle to Alaska. Outside the restaurant window the sun on the parking lot made the area seem like a science experiment. She realized she no longer cared about the weather. Next.
Back in her motel room, she lay down on the bed haunted by a thousand sex acts. OK — this place is creepy but at least I'm not throwing away money. Her lips were sore to the point that speech was painful, and it hurt to exhale. Her pill buzzer buzzed; she sat up. She reached into her purse and removed a prescription bottle. She turned on the TV, and there was Sarah being interviewed on CNN. As always, her daughter looked glowingly pretty on TV, like a nun who'd never touched makeup.
— Do you think you and children like you, born with damage caused by thalidomide, have other messages to tell the world?
— Of course. We were the canaries in the coal mine. We were the first children born in which it was proved that chemicals from the outside world — in our case thalidomide — could severely damage the human embryo. These days, most mothers don't smoke or drink during pregnancy. They know that the outer world can enter their babies and cause damage. But in my mother's generation, they didn't know this. They smoked and drank and took any number of medications without thinking twice. Now we know better, and as a species we're smarter as a result — we're aware of teratogens.
— Teratogens?
— Yes. It means 'monster forming'. A horrible word, but then the world can be a horrible place. They're the chemicals that cross the placenta and affect a child's growth in utero.
The host turned to the camera: 'Time for a quick break. I've been speaking with Sarah Drummond-Fournier, a one-handed woman, and one heck of a fighter, who'll be on Friday's shuttle flight. We'll be right back.'
How on earth did I give birth to such a child? I understand nothing about her life. Nothing. And yet she's the spitting image of me, and she's gallivanting up into space. Janet remembered how much she'd wanted to help the young Sarah with her homework, and Sarah's polite-but-resigned invitations to come do so when Janet popped her head into Sarah's doorway. Invariably Janet would look down at the papers that might as well have been in Chinese. Janet would ask a few concerned questions about Sarah's teachers, and then plead kitchen duty, beating a hasty retreat.
She turned off the TV.
She once cared about everything, and if she couldn't muster genuine concern, she could easily fake it: too much rain stunting the petunias; her children's scrapes; stick figure Africans; the plight of marine mammals. She considered herself one of the surviving members of a lost generation, the last generation raised to care about appearances or doing the right thing — to care about caring. She had been born in 1934 in Toronto, a city then much like Chicago or Rochester or Detroit — bland, methodical, thrifty and rules-playing. Her father, William Truro, managed the furniture and household appliance department of the downtown Eaton's department store. William's wife, Kaye, was, well ... William's wife.
The two raised Janet and her older brother, Gerald, on $29.50 a week until 1938, when a salary decrease lowered William's pay to $27 a week, and jam vanished from the Truro breakfast table, the absence of which became Janet's first memory. After the jam, the rest of Janet's life seemed to have been an ongoing reduction — things that had once been essential vanishing without discussion, or even worse, with too much discussion.
Seasons changed. Sweaters became ragged, were patched up and became ragged again, and were grudgingly thrown out. A few flowers were grown in the thin band of dirt in front of the brick row house, species scavenged by Kaye for their value as dried flowers, which scrimped an extra few months' worth of utility from them. Life seemed to be entirely about scrimping. In fall of 1938, Gerald died of polio. In 1939 the war began and Canada was in it from the start, and scrimping kicked into overdrive: bacon fat, tin cans, rubber — all material objects — were scrimp-worthy. Janet's most enjoyable childhood memories were of sorting neighborhood trash in the alleys, in search of crown jewels, metal fragments and love notes from dying princes. During the war, houses in her neighborhood grew dingy — paint became a luxury. When she was six, Janet walked into the kitchen and found her father kissing her mother passionately. They saw Janet standing there, a small, chubby, fuddled Campbell's Soup kid, and they broke apart, blushed, and the incident was never spoken of again. The glimpse was her only evidence of passion until womanhood.
An hour passed and Janet looked at the bedside clock: almost 9:30, and Howie would have already picked up Wade by now. Janet walked down to the hotel's covered breezeway to wait for her son-in-law. A day of boredom loomed.
Then, pow! she was angry all of a sudden. She was angry because she was unable to remember and reexperience her life as a continuous movie-like event. There were only bits of punctuation here and there — the kiss, the jam, the dried flowers — which, when assembled, made Janet who she was — yet there seemed to be no divine logic behind the assemblage. Or any flow. All those bits were merely ... bits. But there had to be logic. How could the small, chubby child of 1940 imagine that one day she'd be in Florida seeing her own daughter launched into outer space? Tiny little Sarah, who was set to circle the Earth hundreds of times. We didn't even think about outer space in 1939. Space didn't exist yet.
She removed a black felt Sharpie pen from her purse, and wrote the word 'laryngitis' on a folded piece of paper. For the remainder of the day she wouldn't have to speak to anybody she didn't want to.
I wonder if Howie is going to be late? No — Howie's not the late type.

Excerpted from All Families are Psychotic by Douglas Coupland. Copyright © 2001 by Douglas Coupland. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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First Chapter

Chapter One

Janet opened her eyes — Florida's prehistoric glare dazzled outside the motel window. A dog barked; a car honked; a man was singing a snatch of a Spanish song. She absentmindedly touched the scar from the bullet wound beneath her left ribcage, a scar that had healed over, bumpy and formless and hard, like a piece of gum stuck beneath a tabletop. She hadn't expected her flesh to have healed so blandly — What was I expecting, a scar shaped like an American flag?

    Janet's forehead flushed: My children — where are they? She did a rapid-fire tally of the where abouts of her three children, a ritual she'd enacted daily since the birth of Wade back in 1958. Once she'd mentally placed her offspring in their geographic slots, she remembered to breathe: They're all going to be here in Orlando today.

    She looked at the motel's bed side clock: 7:03 A.M. Pillo'clock. She took two capsules from her prescription pill caddie and swallowed them with tap water gone flat overnight, which now tasted like nickels and pennies. It registered on her that motel rooms now came equipped with coffee makers. What a sensible idea, so bloody sensible — why didn't they do this years ago? Why is all the good stuff happening now?

    A few days back, on the phone, her daughter, Sarah, had said, 'Mom, at least buy Evian, OK? The tap water in that heap is probably laced with crack. I can't believe you chose to stay there.'

    'But dear, I don't mind it here.'

    'Go stay at the Peabody with the rest of the family. I've told you a hundred times I'll pay.'

    'That's not the point, dear. A hotel really ought not cost more than this.'

    'Mom, NASA cuts deals with the hotels, and ...' Sarah made a puff of air, acknowledging defeat. 'Forget it. But I think you're too well off to be pulling your Third World routine.'

    Sarah — so cavalier with money! — as were the two others. None had known poverty, and they'd never known war, but the advantage hadn't made them golden, and Janet had never gotten over this fact. A life of abundance had turned her two boys into an element other than gold — lead? — silicon? — bismuth? But then Sarah — Sarah was an element finer than gold — carbon crystallized as diamond — a bolt of lightning frozen in midflash, sliced into strips, and stored in a vault.

    Janet's phone rang and she answered it: Wade, calling from an Orange County lock-up facility. Janet imagined Wade in a drab concrete hallway, unshaven and disheveled, yet still radiating 'the glint' — the spark in the eye he'd inherited from his father. Bryan didn't have it and Sarah didn't need it, but Wade had glinted his way through life, and maybe it hadn't been the best attribute to inherit after all.

    Wade: Janet remembered being back home, and driving along Marine Drive in the morning, watching a certain type of man waiting for a bus to take him downtown. He'd be slightly seedy and one or two notches short of respectability; it was always patently clear he'd lost his driver's license after a DWI, but this only made him more interesting, and whenever Janet smiled at one of these men from her car, they fired a smile right back. And that was Wade and, in some unflossed cranny of her memory, her ex-husband, Ted.

    'Dear, aren't you too old to be calling me from — jail? Even saying the word "jail" feels silly.'

    'Mom, I don't do bad stuff any more. This was a fluke.'

    'Okay then, what happened — did you accidentally drive a busload of Girl Guides into the Everglades?'

    'It was a bar brawl, Mom.'

    Janet repeated this: 'A bar brawl.'

    'I know, I know — you think I don't know how idiotic that sounds? I'm phoning because I need a ride away from this dump. My rental car's back at the bar.'

    'Where's Beth? Why doesn't she drive you?'

    'She gets in early this afternoon.'

    'OK. Well, let's go back a step, dear. How exactly does one get into a bar brawl?'

    'You wouldn't believe me if I told you.'

    'You'd be amazed what I'm believing these days. Try me.'

    There was a pause on the other end. 'I got in a fight because this guy — this jerk — was making fun of God.'

    'God.' He can't be serious.

    'Yeah, well, he was.'

    'In what way?'

    'He was being so nasty about it, saying, "God's an asshole,"and "God doesn't care about squat," and he kept on going on and on, and I had to put a stop to it. I think he got fired that day.'

    'You were defending God's honor?'

    'Yeah. I was.'

    Tread carefully here, Janet. 'Wade, I know Beth is very religious. Are you becoming religious, too?'

    'Me? Maybe. Nah. Yes. No. It depends on how you define religious. It keeps Beth calm, and maybe ...' Wade paused. 'Maybe it can calm me, too.'

    'So you spent the night in jail, then?'

    'Safely in the arms of a four-hundred-pound convenience store thief named Bubba.'

    'Wade, I can't pick you up. I think it's going to be one of those no-energy days. And besides, the car I rented smells like a carpet in a frat house — and the roads down here, they're white, and the glare makes me sleepy.'

    'Mom, come on ...'

    'Don't be such a baby. You're forty-two. Act it. You couldn't even get to the hotel in time yesterday.'

    'I was making a quick detour to visit a friend in Tampa. I stopped for a drink. Hey — don't treat me like I'm Bryan. It wasn't like I started the fight or ...'

    'Stop! Stop right there. Call a cab.'

    'I'm short on cash.'

    'Simple cab fare? Then how are you paying for the hotel?'

    Wade was silent.

    'Wade?'

    'Sarah's covering it for us until we can pay it back.' An awkward silence followed.

    'Mom, you could pick me up if you really wanted to. I know you could.'

    'Yes, I suppose I could. But I think you should phone your father down in ... what's that place called?'

    'Kissimmee — and I already did call him.'

    'And?'

    'He's gone marlin fishing with Nickie.'

    'Marlin fishing? People still do that?'

    'I don't know. I guess. I thought they were extinct. They probably have a guy in a wet suit who attaches a big plastic marlin onto their line.'

    'Marlins are so ugly. They remind me of basement rec rooms that people built in 1958 and never used again.'

    'I know. It's hard to imagine they ever existed in the first place.'

    'So he's out marlin fishing with Nickie then?'

    'Yeah. With Nickie.'

    'That cheesy slut.'

    'Mom?'

    'Wade, I'm not a saint. I've been holding stuff inside me for decades — girls my age were trained to do that, and it's why we all have colitis. Besides, a dash of spicy language is refreshing every so often. Just yesterday I was hunting for information on vitamin D derivatives on the Internet, and suddenly, doink! I land in the Anal Love website. I'm looking at a cheerleader in a leather harness on the —'

    'Mom, how can you visit sites like that?'

    'Wade, may I remind you that you are standing in a human Dumpster somewhere in Orlando, yet hearing a sixty-five-year-old woman discuss the Internet over a pay phone shocks you? You wouldn't believe the sites I've visited. And the chat rooms, too. I'm not always Janet Drummond, you know.'

    'Mom, why are you telling me this?'

    'Oh, forget it. And your stepmother, Nickie, is still a cheesy slut. Phone Howie — maybe he can come fetch you.'

    'Howie's so boring he makes me almost pass out. I can't believe Sarah married such a blank.'

    'I'm the one who gave birth to her, and I'm the one who has to drive with him to Cape Canaveral today.'

    'Ooh — bummer. Another NASA do?'

    'Yes. And you're welcome to come along.'

    'Wait a second, Mom — why aren't you at the Peabody with everybody else? What are you staying in a motel for? By the way, it took thirty rings for the clerk — who, I might add, sounded like a kidney thief — to answer the phone.'

    'Wade, you're changing the subject. Phone Howie. Oh wait — I think I hear somebody at the door.' Janet held the phone at arm's length from her head, and said, 'Knock knock knock knock.'

    'Very funny, Mom.'

    'I have to answer the door, Wade.'

    'That's really funny. I —'

    Click

    The motel room made her feel slightly too transient, but it was a bargain, and that turned the minuses into pluses. Nonetheless, Janet missed her morning waking-up rituals in her own bedroom. She touched her body gently and methodically, as though she were at the bank counting a stack of twenties. She gently rubbed a set of ulcers on her lips' insides, still there, same as the day before, not just a dream. Her hands probed further downward — no lumps in her breasts, not today — but then what had Sarah told her? We've all had cancer thousands of times, Mom, but in all those thousands of times your body removed it. It's lazy bookkeeping to only count the cancers that stick. You and I could have cancer right now, but tomorrow it might be gone.

    The motel room smelled like a lifetime of cigarettes. She looked at Sarah's photo in the Miami Herald beside the phone, a standard NASA PR crew photo: an upper body shot against a navy ice-cream swirl background and complexion-flattering lighting that made one suspect a noble, scientific disdain for cosmetics. Sarah clutched a helmet underneath her right arm. Her left arm, handless, rested by her side: Space knows no limitations.

    Janet sighed. She twiddled her toes. Ten minutes later her phone rang again: Sarah calling from the Cape.

    'Hi, Mom. I just spoke to Howie. He'll go pick up Wade.'

    'Good morning, Sarah. How's your day?'

    'This morning we had a zero-G evacuation test, but what I really wanted to do was sit in a nice quiet bathroom and test out a new brand of pore-cleansing strips. The humidity in these suits is giving me killer blackheads. They never talked about that in those old Life magazine photo essays. Have you eaten yet?'

    'No.'

    'Come eat at the Cape with me. We can have dehydrated astronaut's ice cream out of a shiny Mylar bag.'

    Janet sat up on her bed and pulled her legs over the side. She felt her skin — her meat — hanging from her bones as though it were so much water-logged clothing. She needed to pee. She began to meter her words as she eyed the bathroom door. 'I don't think so, dear. The only time they ever allow me to have with you are three seconds for a photo op.'

    Sarah asked, 'Is Beth arriving today?'

    Beth was Wade's wife. 'Later this afternoon. I think I'm going to dinner with the two of them.'

    'How far along is she?'

    'I think this is her fourth month. It may even be a Christmas baby.'

    'Huh. I see.'

    'Something wrong, Sarah?'

    'It's just that —'

    'What?'

    'Mom, how could Wade marry ... her. She's so priggish and born-again. I always thought Wade would marry Miss Roller Derby. Beth is so frigging sanctimonious.'

    'She keeps him alive.'

    'I guess she does. When does Bryan arrive?'

    'He and his girlfriend are already here. He called from the Peabody.'

    'Girlfriend? Bryan? What's her name?'

    'If I tell you, you won't believe me.'

    'It can't be that bad. Is it one of those made-up names like DawnElle or Kerrissa or CindaJo?'

    'Worse.'

    'What could be worse?'

    'Shw.'

    'I beg your pardon?'

    'Shw. That's her name: Shw.'

    'Spell that for me.'

    'S. H. W.'

    'And?'

    'There's no vowel, if that's what you're waiting for.'

    'What — her name is Shw? Am I pronouncing that properly?'

    'I'm afraid so.'

    'That is the most ... impractical name I've ever heard. Is she from Sri Lanka or Finland or something?'

    Janet's eye lingered on the bathroom door and the toilet beyond. 'As far as I know she's from Alberta. Bryan worships her, and she's also knocked up like a prom queen.'

    'Bryan's pregnant? How come I don't know any of this?'

    'I just met her last week myself, dear. She seems to rather like me, though she treats everybody else like dirt. So I don't mind her at all, really.'

    'Bryan is such a freak. I'm not going to be able to keep a straight face, you know — when she tells me her name, that is.'

    Janet said, 'Shw!'

    Sarah giggled.

    'Shw! Shw! Shw!'

    Sarah laughed. 'Is she pretty?'

    'Sort of. She's also about eighteen and an angry little hornet. In the fifties we would have called her a pixie. Nowadays we'd call her hyperthyroid. She's bug-eyed.'

    'Where'd they meet?'

    'Seattle. She helped Bryan set fire — I believe — to a stack of pastel-colored waffle-knit T-shirts in a Gap — back during the World Trade Organization riots. They were separated, then a few months ago they met again destroying a test facility growing genetically modified runner beans.'

    Janet could sense Sarah changing gears; she was finished discussing the family. Next would come business-like matters:'Well, good for Bryan. You're OK for today's NASA gig?'

    'Still.'

    'Howie will pick you up at 9:30, after he picks up my darling brother. By the way, Dad's broke.'

    'That doesn't surprise me. I'd heard he'd lost his job.'

    'I tried to loan him some money, but he, of course, said no. Not that there's much to loan. Howie lost the bulk of our savings in some website that sells products for pets. I could strangle him.'

    'Oh dear.' It's so easy to fall into the mother mode.

    'Tell me about it. Hey, when was the last time you even saw Dad?'

    'Half a year ago. By accident at Super-Valu.'

    'Tense?'

    'I can handle him.'

    'Good. See you there.'

    'Yes, dear.'

    Click

    On the walkway outside her room, Janet heard children mewling as they set off to Walt Disney World with their families. She walked to the bathroom across a floor made lunar from eons of cigarette burns and various stains better left uninvestigated. She thought of serial murderers using acids to dissolve the teeth and jawbones of their victims.

    She unsuspectingly caught sight of herself in a floor-length mirror by the sink and the sight stopped her cold. Yes, Janet, that's correct: you are shrinking — sinew by sinew, protein molecule by protein molecule you are turning into an ... an elf, yes, you, Janet Drummond, once voted 'Girl We'd Rob a Bank For.'

    She was transfixed by the view of herself in a blue nightie, as if she were once again young and this image had been delivered to her from the future as a warning — If I squint I can still see the cool immaculate housewife I once dreamed of becoming. I'm Elizabeth Montgomery starring in Bewitched. I'm Dina Merrill lunching at the Museum of Modern Art with Christina Ford.

    Oh forget it. She peed, showered, dried and then modified those traces of time's passage on her face that she could.

    There. I'm not so bad after all. A man might still rob a bank for me, and men still do flirt — not too frequently — and older men perhaps — but the look in the eyes never changes.

    She dressed, and five minutes later she was a block away sitting in a Denny's reading a paper. The North American weather map on the rear page was a rich, unhealthy crimson, with only a small strip of cool green running up the coast from Seattle to Alaska. Outside the restaurant window the sun on the parking lot made the area seem like a science experiment. She realized she no longer cared about the weather. Next.

    Back in her motel room, she lay down on the bed haunted by a thousand sex acts. OK — this place is creepy but at least I'm not throwing away money. Her lips were sore to the point that speech was painful, and it hurt to exhale. Her pill buzzer buzzed; she sat up. She reached into her purse and removed a prescription bottle. She turned on the TV, and there was Sarah being interviewed on CNN. As always, her daughter looked glowingly pretty on TV, like a nun who'd never touched makeup.

    — Do you think you and children like you, born with damage caused by thalidomide, have other messages to tell the world?

    — Of course. We were the canaries in the coal mine. We were the first children born in which it was proved that chemicals from the outside world — in our case thalidomide — could severely damage the human embryo. These days, most mothers don't smoke or drink during pregnancy. They know that the outer world can enter their babies and cause damage. But in my mother's generation, they didn't know this. They smoked and drank and took any number of medications without thinking twice. Now we know better, and as a species we're smarter as a result — we're aware of teratogens.

    — Teratogens?

    — Yes. It means 'monster forming'. A horrible word, but then the world can be a horrible place. They're the chemicals that cross the placenta and affect a child's growth in utero.

    The host turned to the camera: 'Time for a quick break. I've been speaking with Sarah Drummond-Fournier, a one-handed woman, and one heck of a fighter, who'll be on Friday's shuttle flight. We'll be right back.'

    How on earth did I give birth to such a child? I understand nothing about her life. Nothing. And yet she's the spitting image of me, and she's gallivanting up into space. Janet remembered how much she'd wanted to help the young Sarah with her homework, and Sarah's polite-but-resigned invitations to come do so when Janet popped her head into Sarah's doorway. Invariably Janet would look down at the papers that might as well have been in Chinese. Janet would ask a few concerned questions about Sarah's teachers, and then plead kitchen duty, beating a hasty retreat.

     She turned off the TV.

    She once cared about everything, and if she couldn't muster genuine concern, she could easily fake it: too much rain stunting the petunias; her children's scrapes; stick figure Africans; the plight of marine mammals. She considered herself one of the surviving members of a lost generation, the last generation raised to care about appearances or doing the right thing — to care about caring. She had been born in 1934 in Toronto, a city then much like Chicago or Rochester or Detroit — bland, methodical, thrifty and rules-playing. Her father, William Truro, managed the furniture and household appliance department of the downtown Eaton's department store. William's wife, Kaye, was, well ... William's wife.

    The two raised Janet and her older brother, Gerald, on $29.50 a week until 1938, when a salary decrease lowered William's pay to $27 a week, and jam vanished from the Truro breakfast table, the absence of which became Janet's first memory. After the jam, the rest of Janet's life seemed to have been an on going reduction — things that had once been essential vanishing without discussion, or even worse, with too much discussion.

    Seasons changed. Sweaters became ragged, were patched up and became ragged again, and were grudgingly thrown out. A few flowers were grown in the thin band of dirt in front of the brick row house, species scavenged by Kaye for their value as dried flowers, which scrimped an extra few months' worth of futility from them. Life seemed to be entirely about scrimping. In fall of 1938, Gerald died of polio. In 1939 the war began and Canada was in it from the start, and scrimping kicked into overdrive: bacon fat, tin cans, rubber — all material objects — were scrimp-worthy. Janet's most enjoyable childhood memories were of sorting neighborhood trash in the alleys, in search of crown jewels, metal fragments and love notes from dying princes. During the war, houses in her neighborhood grew dingy — paint became a luxury. When she was six, Janet walked into the kitchen and found her father kissing her mother passionately. They saw Janet standing there, a small, chubby, fuddled Campbell's Soup kid, and they broke apart, blushed, and the incident was never spoken of again. The glimpse was her only evidence of passion until womanhood.

    An hour passed and Janet looked at the bed side clock: almost9:30, and Howie would have already picked up Wade by now. Janet walked down to the hotel's covered breezeway to wait for her son-in-law. A day of boredom loomed.

    Then, pow! she was angry all of a sudden. She was angry because she was unable to remember and re-experience her life as a continuous movie-like event. There were only bits of punctuation here and there — the kiss, the jam, the dried flowers — which, when assembled, made Janet who she was — yet there seemed to be no divine logic behind the assemblage. Or any flow. All those bits were merely ... bits. But there had to be logic. How could the small, chubby child of 1940 imagine that one day she'd be in Florida seeing her own daughter launched into outer space? Tiny little Sarah, who was set to circle the Earth hundreds of times. We didn't even think about outer-space in 1939. Space didn't exist yet.

    She removed a black felt Sharpie pen from her purse, and wrote the word 'laryngitis' on a folded piece of paper. For the remainder of the day she wouldn't have to speak to anybody she didn't want to.

    I wonder if Howie is going to be late? No — Howie's not the late type.

Excerpted from All Families are Psychotic by Douglas Coupland. Copyright © 2001 by Douglas Coupland. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 24 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 14, 2013

    the-mother-daughter-book-cl [edit] All families may be psychot

    the-mother-daughter-book-cl
    [edit]

    All families may be psychotic but this one was a bit too much so. The dysfunction in this family was so out there. There was way too much drama and competing storylines. This left little room for character development, hence I felt no connection. I kept hoping the book would get better but to my disappointment it never did. I read my way through it as it was a book club selection. If I hadn't committed to read it I probably would of abandoned it mid way.

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  • Posted February 2, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Outstanding novel...

    This book was a wild rollercoaster of a ride. Twists and turns, happy and unhappy moments...this book has it all. I always enjoy reading about people who can find beauty in the negative/ugly aspects of life. All Families are Psychotic has the ability to dig deep down inside your soul, making you re-examine your own life. Douglas Coupland is definately one of my favorite authors to read. A+ for All Families are Psychotic.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 28, 2004

    yeah okay

    Hey. Yeah This book was okay. I just made one mistake before reading it: I read 'Generation X'. This book cannot be compared to 'Generation X'. It carries no great message or whatever, but it was entertaining. I must say I kept looking to see how many more pages I had left, though. But it was enjoyable. I'd recommend it. - Don't my reviews rock? -

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 17, 2003

    Brilliantly twisted

    As familiar as the phrase has become, it certainly applies to this novel. Mr. Coupland has put the 'fun' in dysfunctional when it comes to the Drummond family. Highly innovative, hilarious as well as heartbreaking, this is a MUST read, especially if you're an eclectic reader. Skip 'The Corrections', it's a borefest compared to this book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 27, 2003

    A mind blowing experience

    A story with so many things 'going On' it became hard to keep up with all the amazing events. It did highlight modern day family problems but hopefully not all these experiences would occur to the same set of people. YOU WILL NOT GET BORED BY THIS BOOK!!!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 1, 2002

    Good Characters, needs work on plot

    This was a good book overall. The characters were all individual, but at some times it was hard to keep their traits seperate. The plot for the book was very far fetched and "you know what'll happen next." Good read!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 26, 2002

    Families psychotic?

    This is the first novel I have read by Coupland. Not quite what I expected and a little out there.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 25, 2002

    HE'S BACK!

    After Coupland put out duds like 'Miss Wyoming' and 'Girlfriend in a Coma', I thought that he was a one or two hit wonder. With a sigh of relief, I must say that I was wrong. This book was great... a juicy treat for salivating Coupland fans. Also, if you like this book, you might try reading 'The Corrections' by Jonathan Franzen.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 2, 2001

    Coupland Creates Another Modern Day Masterpiece

    Coupland's novels always manage to both terrify me and leave me hopeful of humanity. 'All Families Are Psychotic' is no exception. Coupland maintains his prowess as a pop culture fabler with his tale of the Drummond family, whose troubles vastly surpass those of trash-talk show guests. Coupland tackles these familial foibles with deftness and humor. Through the Drummonds, Coupland takes us on a thoroughly entertaining, fast-paced journey through not just the stickly roads of Florida, but our hopes, conceptions, dreams, and fears as well.

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