Liz Dunn is fat, lonely and has no friends. That sounds harsh, but Coupland faces unpleasant facts head on in this poignant, funny, intrepidly offbeat new novel. The only exciting incident ever to brighten Liz's life was a class trip to Rome when she was 16, during which she attended a party where she drank so much she can't remember what happened. Nine months after she returned home, she gave birth to a son, an event hidden from her family because of her natural rotundness. Liz gave the child up for adoption and then launched into a life of perpetual loneliness (hence the title's nod to the lonely lady of Beatles fame). All this changes when her now 20-year-old son, Jeremy, shows up. He's a great kid, but his story is tragic-he bounced around foster homes until he could take care of himself, he has multiple sclerosis and his body is rapidly deteriorating. Coupland, whose hip literary homeruns include Generation X and Hey Nostradamus, avoids the pitfalls of weepy melodrama with sarcastic humor, inspired treatment of the weirdness of everyday life and dark mystical interludes (Jeremy has bleak visions about farmers who receive odd messages from God). At the novel's spectacular, and spectacularly unexpected, denouement, Liz finally meets the father of her son. It's a bittersweet reunion and a perfect ending to this clever, inspired, brilliantly strange tale. Agent, Eric Simonoff at Janklow & Nesbit. (Jan.) Forecast: This is Coupland's tightest novel in recent years and will likely attract new readers while fully satisfying his loyal base. Six-city author tour. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
In his ninth novel, veteran Canadian writer Coupland (Hey Nostradamus!) treads familiar ground with wayward Generation X characters and feckless family members, but here he is particularly interested in how loneliness affects his protagonist, the chronically solitary Liz Dunn. Liz has reconciled herself to seeking inner peace as her primary goal in life, since companionship on any level will always elude her. This mindset changes when terminally drab Liz discovers that she has a 20-year-old son, Jeremy, who has a debilitating physical affliction but the looks, personality, and charm of a young Tom Cruise. In the first part, Coupland provides a moving narrative as Liz learns for the first time what it's like to care and provide for someone you love. Unfortunately, he ultimately falls back on old standbys (e.g., zany plot twists) and a surfeit of caustically hip turns of phrase that dismantle most everything of substance developed in the book's beginning. This departure from poignancy eventually results in a satisfying transformation for Liz but an unrealistic one for readers. Given the book's unevenness, recommended only where Coupland is popular.-Kevin Greczek, Ewing, NJ Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
A remembrance of things past that turns inexplicably into a harbinger of the apocalypse-as well as Coupland's (Hey Nostradamus!, 2003, etc.) weirdest and most accomplished work to date. Liz Dunn, unmarried and unattached, works as a cubicle clone at some communications firm in Vancouver and appears to have few passions, obsessions, vocations, or hobbies. One night, however, she's struck by a bolt out of the blue-almost literally-when a fragment of a meteorite lands a few feet away from her in the parking lot of her local supermarket. All at once, her life begins to change: she becomes hopeful, lighthearted, and about as euphoric as a Canadian can be. Shortly thereafter, she even receives a telephone call from the Mounties asking her to stop in at a nearby hospital, where a young man has been admitted who claims to be her son-as, in fact, he is. Jeremy is the fruit of a one-night stand in Rome on a high school trip 20 years before, but Liz put him up for adoption immediately after his birth and never saw him again. Now, he has multiple sclerosis and is suffering from hallucinations brought on by drugs. Liz immediately assumes responsibility for his care, then slowly begins to recall the events of that long-ago summer in Rome. When police contact her and ask her to assist them in a difficult and extremely bizarre investigation, she even gets summoned to Vienna to meet the boy's father, whose name she has forgotten. En route, she inadvertently causes an international incident, shuts down one of the largest airports in the world, and ends up in jail. But she does it all with as little fuss as possible and manages to make her way to a happy end. Extremely funny yet quite moving (and evenplausible): could be one of the first great novels of the new century. Author tour. Agent: Eric Simonoff/Janklow & Nesbit
From the Publisher
“Coupland…writes a sparkling sentence and a mean epigram.” Entertainment Weekly
“Coupland has crafted a formidable pop style that hooks up dead-on cultural anthropology with surprising reserves of emotion…What's remarkable is how easy it is for even the best adjusted among us to see ourselves in Coupland's compassionate (and occasionally madcap) portrait.” Village Voice
“Told with abundant wit and a deceptive simplicity.” Boston Globe
“Coupland's weirdest and most accomplished work to date…could be one of the first great novels of the new century.” Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Poignant, funny, intrepidly offbeat…[a] clever, inspired, brilliantly strange tale.” Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Read an Excerpt
By Douglas Coupland
Bloomsbury Publishing PLC Copyright © 2005 Douglas Coupland
All right reserved.
I had always thought that a person born blind and given sight later on in life through the miracles of modern medicine would feel reborn. Just imagine looking at our world with brand new eyes, everything fresh, covered with dew and charged with beauty -- pale skin and yellow daffodils, boiled lobsters and a full moon. And yet I've read books that tell me this isn't the way newly created vision plays out in real life. Gifted with sight, previously blind patients become frightened and confused. They can't make sense of shape or colour or depth. Everything shocks, and nothing brings solace. My brother, William, says, "Well think about it, Liz -- kids lie in their cribs for nearly a year watching hand puppets and colourful toys come and go. They're dumb as planks, and it takes them a long time to even twig to the notion of where they end and the world begins. Why should it be any different just because you're older and technically wiser?"
In the end, those gifted with new eyesight tend to retreat into their own worlds. Some beg to be made blind again, yet when they consider it further, they hesitate, and realize they're unable to surrender their sight. Bad visions are better than no visions.
Here's something else I think about: in the movies, the way criminals are ready to squeal so long as they're entered into a witness relocation program. They're given a brand new name, passport and home, but they'll never be able to contact anybody from their old life again; they have to choose between death and becoming someone entirely new. But you know what I think? I think the FBI simply shoots everybody who enters the program. The fact that nobody ever hears from these dead participants perversely convinces outsiders that the program really works. Let's face it: they go to the same magic place in the country where people take their unwanted pets.
Listen to me go on like this. My sister, Leslie, says I'm morbid, but I don't agree. I think I'm reasonable, just trying to be honest with myself about the ways of the world. Or come up with new ways of seeing them. I once read that for every person currently alive on earth, there are nineteen dead people who have lived before us. That's not that much really. Our existence as a species on earth has been so short. We forget that.
I sometimes wonder how big a clump you could make if you were to take all creatures that have ever lived -- not just people, but giraffes, plankton, amoebas, ferns and dinosaurs -- and smush them all together in a big ball, a planet. The gravitational mass of this new clump would make it implode into a tiny ball as hot as the sun's surface. Steam would sizzle out into space. But just maybe the iron in the blood of all of these creatures would be too heavy to leap out into space, and maybe a small and angry little planet with a molten iron core would form. And just maybe, on that new planet, life would start all over again.
I mention all of this because of the comet that passed earth seven years ago, back in 1997 -- Hale-Bopp, a chunk of some other demolished planet hurtling about the universe. I first saw it just past sunset while standing in the parking lot of Rogers Video. Teenage cliques dressed like hooligans and sluts were pointing up, at this small dab of slightly melted butter in the blue-black heavens above Hollyburn Mountain. Sure, I think the zodiac is pure hooey, but when an entirely new object appears in the sky, it opens some kind of window to your soul and to your sense of destiny. No matter how rational you try to be, it's hard to escape the feeling that such a celestial event portends some kind of radical change.
Funny that it took a comet to trigger a small but radical change in my life. In the years until then, I'd been sieving the contents of my days with ever finer mesh, trying to sort out those sharp and nasty bits that were causing me grief: bad ideas, pointless habits, robotic thinking. Like anybody, I wanted to find out if my life was ever going to make sense, or maybe even feel like a story. In the wake of Hale-Bopp, I realized that my life, while technically adequate, had become all it was ever going to be. If I could just keep things going on their current even keel for a few more decades, the coroner could dump me into a peat bog without my ever having once gone fully crazy.
I made the radical change standing in the video store's parking lot, holding copies of On the Beach, Bambi, Terms of Endearment, How Green Was My Valley and The Garden of the Finzi-Continis, staring up at the comet. I decided that instead of demanding certainty from life, I now wanted peace. No more trying to control everything -- it was now time to go with the flow. With that one decision, the chain-mail shroud I'd been wearing my entire life fell from my body and I was light as a gull. I'd freed myself.
* * *
Of course, we're born alone, and when we die, we join every living thing that's ever existed--and ever will. When I'm dead I won't be lonely any more -- I'll be joining a big party. Sometimes at the office, when the phones aren't ringing, and when I've completed my daily paperwork, and when The Dwarf To Whom I Report is still out for lunch, I sit in my chest-high sage green cubicle and take comfort in knowing that since I don't remember where I was before I was born, why should I be worried about where I go after I die?
In any event, were you to enter the cubicle farm that is Landover Communication Systems, you probably wouldn't notice me, daydreaming or otherwise. I long ago learned to render myself invisible. I pull myself into myself, and my eyes become stale and dull. One of my favourite things on TV is when an actor is in a casket pretending to be dead, or, even more challenging, laid out on a morgue's steel draining pan bathed in clinical white light. Did I see an eyelash flicker? Did that cheek muscle just twitch? Is the thorax pumping slightly? Is this particular fascination of mine goofy, or is it sick?
I'm alone now, and I was alone when I saw my first comet that night in the parking lot, the comet that lightened my burden in life. It made me so giddy, I chucked the rented tapes into my Honda's back seat and went for a walk over to Ambleside Beach. For once I didn't look wistfully at all the couples and parents and families headed back to their cars, or at the teenagers arriving to drink and drug and screw all night in between the logs on the sand.
The moon was full and glamorous -- so bright it made me want to do a crossword puzzle under its light, just to see if I could. I took off my runners and, with them in hand, I walked into the seafoam and looked west, out at Vancouver Island and the Pacific. I remembered an old Road Runner versus Coyote cartoon -- one in which the Coyote buys the world's most powerful magnet. When he turns it on, hundreds of astonishing things come flying across the desert toward him: tin cans, keys, grand pianos, money and weapons. I felt like I'd just activated a similar sort of magnet, and I needed to wait and see what came flying across the oceans and deserts to meet me.
Excerpted from Eleanor Rigby by Douglas Coupland Copyright © 2005 by Douglas Coupland. Excerpted by permission.
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