Hey Nostradamus! Hardcover – Jul 8 2003
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Considering some of his past subjects--slackers, dot-commers, Hollywood producers--a Columbine-like high school massacre seems like unusual territory for the usually glib Douglas Coupland. Anyone who has read Generation X or Miss Wyoming knows that dryly hip humour, not tragedy, is the Vancouver author's strong suit. But give the guy credit for twisting his material in strange, unexpected shapes. Coupland begins his seventh novel by transposing the Columbine incident to North Vancouver circa 1988. Narrated by one of the (murdered) victims, the first part of Hey Nostradamus! is affecting and emotional enough to almost make you forget you're reading a book by the same writer who so accurately characterized a generation in his first book, yet was unable to delineate a convincing character. As Cheryl Anway tells her story, the facts of the Delbrook Senior Secondary student's life--particularly her secret marriage to classmate Jason--provide a very human dimension to the bloody denouement that will change hundreds of lives forever. Rather than moving on to explore the conditions that led to the killings, though, Coupland shifts focus to nearly a dozen years after the event: first to Jason, still shattered by the death of his teenage bride, then to Jason's new girlfriend Heather, and finally to Reg, Jason's narrow-minded, religious father.
Hey Nostradamus! is a very odd book. It's among Coupland's most serious efforts, yet his intent is not entirely clear. Certainly there is no attempt at psychological insight into the killers' motives, and the most developed relationships--those between Jason and Cheryl, and Jason and Reg--seem to have little to do with each other. Nevertheless, it is a Douglas Coupland book, which means imaginatively strange plot developments--as when a psychic, claiming messages from the Beyond, tries to extort money from Heather--that compel the reader to see the story to its end. And clever turns of phrase, as usual, are never in short supply, but in Cheryl's section the fate we (and she) know awaits her gives them an added weight: "Math class was x's and y's and I felt trapped inside a repeating dream, staring at these two evil little letters who tormented me with their constant need to balance and be equal with each other," says (writes? transmits?) the deceased narrator. "They should just get married and form a new letter together and put an end to all the nonsense. And then they should have kids." --Shawn Conner
From Publishers Weekly
Coupland has long been a genre unto himself, and his latest novel fits the familiar template: earnest sentiment tempered by sardonic humor and sharp cultural observation. The book begins with a Columbine-like shooting at a Vancouver high school, viewed from the dual perspectives of seniors Jason Klaasen and Cheryl Anway. Jason and Cheryl have been secretly married for six weeks, and on the morning of the shooting, Cheryl tells Jason she is pregnant. Their situation is complicated by their startlingly deep religious faith (as Cheryl puts it, "I can't help but wonder if the other girls thought I used God as an excuse to hook up with Jason"), and their increasingly acrimonious relationship with a hard-core Christian group called Youth Alive! After Cheryl is gunned down, Jason manages to stop the shooters, killing one of them. He is first hailed as a hero, but media spin soon casts him in a different light. This is a promising beginning, but the novel unravels when Jason reappears as an adult and begins an odd, stilted relationship with Heather, a quirky court reporter. Jason disappears shortly after their relationship begins, and Heather turns to a psychic named Allison to track him down in a subplot that meanders and flags. Coupland's insight into the claustrophobic world of devout faith is impressive-one of his more unexpected characters is Jason's father, a pious, crusty villain who gradually morphs into a sympathetic figure-but when he extends his spiritual explorations to encompass psychic swindles, the novel loses its focus. Coupland has always been better at comic set pieces than consistent storytelling, and his lack of narrative control is particularly evident here. Noninitiates are unlikely to be seduced, but true believers will relish another plunge into Coupland-world.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
Nevertheless, I remain drawn to the novels of Douglas Coupland, who like me is from Vancouver. That despite his being an extreme example of "write what you know"--his characters are pretty much all young, white, and middle class; they live in the Western United States or just across the border in Canada; when they travel, they go to Vegas or Oregon or Seattle, never to Alberta or New York (forget about Japan or Madagascar); they all talk and think in some variation of semi-ironic, simile-heavy, pop-referencing Coupland-speak; their themes are sudden loss, pointless death, loneliness, running away, and vague dread, even from the afterlife; their tales often start strong and then slowly vaporize rather than coming to a strong conclusion. Clanking devices indeed.
Somehow, though, I don't care. His novels are better than his non-fiction, which (while entertaining) feels dashed-off, undisciplined, and improperly researched. In fiction, he takes advantage of those same tendencies to write with a strange propulsion, even when his characters are doing nothing but sitting and thinking. The stories are short but dense. His eye for detail evokes the true feelings of a place. Even his weakest books, such as "Shampoo Planet," "Girlfriend in a Coma," and "Miss Wyoming," have something to say, although neither the reader nor the writer might know exactly what that is.
"Hey Nostradamus!," from 2003, is an extreme example.Read more ›
The novel told through the eyes of four people, and each person was strongly impacted by the narrator before him or her. The story begins with two high school sweethearts, Cheryl and Jason, who love each other immensely and get secretly married (both because they love each other and because they want to have sex without committing a sin).Read more ›
By the time the novel reaches its fourth segment, it has morphed into a completely different tale than what is expected from the beginning. The transitions can be jarring, but then, so can life itself.
I found myself sympathizing with each character as he or she took hold of the story, despite the fact that they were each capable of some pretty horrible or foolish acts. The moral flaws of the individual characters don't seem to matter though. It's the rest of the world that's a mess, and they're just trying to get through it.
It is written from four seperate points of view, stretching in time from 1988 to 2003. Each character brings something new to the table in terms of angle and perspective, and helps to give the reader a well defined picture of the characters.
Spiritually speaking, all the characters have different beleifs and concepts of faith raging from Jason's (the novel's main character) antediluvian father Reg to the religiously disinterested Heather, who herself claims to be "weak on religion". It is through these religious differences that Coupland focuses on interpersonal relationships, a common theme of his and ultimately what the book falls back upon. He paints a strong, rather emotional, picture of how religious persuasions can influence and be influenced by, major events in our lives.
The book is certainly well written, Coupland is no doubt one of the better pop writers of the time, although it did leave me wanting a little more. Whilst the subject matter is rather emotional, I was expecting to be a little more overwhlemed by the book, quite possibly a flaw in my expectations rather than the novel itself. Having said that, it is a highly engaging book that will entertain you and make you think, if not about your own beliefs, then about how you consider other people's.
Most recent customer reviews
While I enjoy Coupland's work and respect his vision, I often find his writing fails to touch me on an emotional level. This book is the exception. Read morePublished on Sept. 17 2007 by Amazon Customer
Upon reading the first few pages of this book, I had no idea what to expect... and the more I read, the more I had no idea what would follow... Read morePublished on Nov. 2 2006 by Natalie R. Dinn
This book was anything but boring. I always enjoy the unique writing-style of Douglas Coupland. He has never disappointed me. Read morePublished on July 7 2004 by Victoria Taylor Murray
I thought this book was a return to form for Coupland as many of the other reviewer's here have mentioned. Read morePublished on Feb. 20 2004 by Amazon Customer
Well, Hmm...I just finished this novel and I'm not sure what I thought. I didn't like a lot, but I certainly didn't dislike it. Read morePublished on Dec 28 2003 by Robert Wellen
Coupland has once again produced a strong story, with an element of the surreal creeping in. Whereas "All Families are Psychotic" had a number of surreal strands that... Read morePublished on Dec 22 2003 by Paul Donovan