Miss Wyoming by Douglas Coupland

Miss Wyoming by Douglas Coupland

Reviewed by L.D.Y.

Hardcover (available in trade), 311 pages, 1999

Rating: 6/10

Reason for Reading: I’d heard mixed things about this Coupland book, but couldn’t resist a seven dollar hardcover.

Synopsis: A chance encounter in a restaurant brings together Susan, a former beauty-pageant contestant turned cheesy tv actress, and John, a movie producer who has been churning out more flops that hits lately. They share one thing: they’ve both taken advantage of strange situations to disappear completely, from the public and from themselves. But is being a nobody enough to bring two people together?

Why you should read this book: Even when he’s being completely inane, Coupland is addictively readable. If you like bizarre, Coupland has bizarre. Dozens of cultural references? Check. Crazy plot twists? In abundance. If reading the tabloids is your guilty indulgence, you’ve just found the book equivalent of The National Inquirer.

Why you should avoid this book: With the similarity to the tabloids comes the same level of depth in Coupland’s characters (see: puddles, shallow). Most of the characters are instantly forgettable, except for Susan’s crazy mother, who’s more than willing to literally dig through garbage if it would improve her daughter’s chance of winning a pageant. At times, the book just feels goofy, like Coupland is so concerned about being off-beat and original that he’ll throw in something off-the-wall and completely irrelevant to anything other than him trying to look smart. Sure, Coupland has the occasional flash of dead-on insight about our society, but for the most part, it feels a lot like passing off curbside leavings as art.

Opening paragraph:

Susan Colgate sat with her agent, Adam Norwitz, on the rocky outdoor patio of the Ivy restaurant at the edge of Beverly Hills. Susan was slightly chilly and kept a fawn-colored cashmere sweater wrapped around her shoulders as she snuck bread crumbs to the birds darting about the ground. Her face was flawlessly made up and her hair was cut in the style of the era. She was a woman on a magazine cover, gazing out at the checkout-stand shopper, smiling, but locked in time and space, away from the real world of squalling babies, bank cards and casual shoplifting.

Fabulous quotes:

As Susan walked away from her temporary hideout in the Galvins’ house – clad in Karen Galvin’s wig and sports gear – she was without credit cards, cash, a driver’s license or any other link to the national economy. She touched her clean dry face, the face her mother had berated for its blank slate quality: (Susan, without makeup your face looks like a sheet of typewriter paper. Next week we’re getting that eyeliner tattooed, sweetie, and that’s that“). Susan had once told her friends that being famous was like being Krazy Glued into a Bob Mackie gown, with an Emmy permanently grafted onto her right hand. But without makeup, she looked unconnected to that image. This fuzziness of identity might prove a small blessing in her new life, as it would allow her to roam freely.

It seemed to John that people in love stopped having the personality they had before love arrived. They morphed into generic ‘in-love units.’ John saw both love and long-term relationships as booby traps that would not only strip him of his identity but would take out the will to continue moving on.
But then again, to find somebody who’d be his partner on the ride – someone to push him further. That’s what he’d held out for. And as the years went on, the holding got sadder and more solitary. He began to hang out with people younger than he as older friends drifted away. But even then he sensed the younger crew were contemptuous – That fucked-up old wank who can’t even get himself a girlfriend. He lives in a house like a nuclear breeder facility. Sure, he has hits, but he always takes his mom to the premieres.

Also recommended: Lullaby by Chuck Palahniuk.

Also by this author: The Gum Thief; JPod; Terry: Terry Fox and His Marathon of Hope; Eleanor Rigby; Hey Nostradamus!; God Hates Japan; Generation X; Shampoo Planet; Life After God; Microserfs; Girlfriend in a Coma; All Families Are Psychotic; Polaroids from the Dead; City of Glass, Souvenir of Canada, Souvenir of Canada 2; School Spirit.

Author’s website: coupland.com

Fun tidbit: In October, 2004, Coupland will be performing his first play, “September 10” in Stratford-on-Avon, England.

© Lisa Yanaky 2003-2007

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