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Hey Nostradamus! [Paperback]

Douglas Coupland
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
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Book Description

June 29 2004 0679312706 978-0679312703
GOD IS NOWHERE GOD IS NOW HERE
GOD IS NOWHERE GOD IS NOW HERE

Using the voices of four characters deeply affected by a high-school shooting, though in remarkably different ways, Douglas Coupland explores the lingering aftermath of one horrifying event, and questions what it means to come through grief – and to survive.

The first narrator in Hey Nostradamus! is Cheryl, who is waiting in the Delbrook Senior Secondary cafeteria for Jason, to whom she is secretly married. Just that morning, she told him she is pregnant. But before Jason arrives, three younger students wearing combat fatigues storm the cafeteria and open fire on their classmates. Cheryl is the last to be killed. Hiding under a table, she speaks to us from a place between life and death, and tells the story of her relationship with Jason, her conversion to Christianity, and her deep love of God, despite her inability to find meaning in this massacre. Unlike her Youth Alive! classmates and peers, who display a harsh and superficial religious fervour, she has truly embraced her faith. “I may have looked like just another stupid teenage girl, but it was all there – God, and sorrow and its acceptance.”

The second narrator is Cheryl’s widower, Jason, writing an open letter to his brother’s twin sons, telling the story of his life to date and how the shooting has shaped it. It’s eleven years later, and, still haunted by Cheryl’s death, Jason has never been able to pull himself together – he cares little for his work, rarely speaks to anyone, and drinks far too much, too often, in an attempt to kill his pain (or at least not to think about it for a while). Jason also has an uneasy relationship with God, and sees the extreme Christian views of his ultra-conservative father, Reg, as one reason for his inability to succeed at life.

Then Jason meets Heather, who, like him, has a hard time dealing with reality. Together they create a world of their own, and live happily – until one day Jason disappears. It’s now 2002 and Heather, who narrates the third section of the novel diary-style, tells us about her life as a court stenographer, her relationship with Jason, and her growing but uncomfortable friendship with Reg. When she’s contacted by a psychic who claims she’s receiving messages from Jason, Heather is led to the brink of despair and back again to something resembling hope, or at least peace.

Reg narrates the last, and shortest, section of the novel. It’s 2003 and Reg is composing a letter to his missing son. It’s been fifteen years since the high-school massacre, but the effects continue to ripple through the lives of those it touched. Reg has begun to soften and to understand the harm he caused Jason and the rest of their family, and his letter forms a confession of sorts as he tries to be honest about his weaknesses. He is also more honest with himself, about his faith: “You might ask me whether I still believe in God; I do – and maybe not even in the best sense of the word ‘believe.’ In the end, it might boil down to some sort of insurance equation to the effect that it’s three percent easier to believe than not to believe.” But despite this calculating view of God, Reg also still holds out hope, as he sets off to post this letter everywhere his son may see it.

Four distinct characters tell four distinct yet entwined stories, as each tries to find his or her own way. And it is through their post-shooting experiences – their scarring exposure to the media or seemingly unrelated pit stops along life’s path – that Douglas Coupland finds the truer story of our collective need. Instead of following the chain of events leading up to the massacre or dwelling on the teenage killers, Coupland concentrates on its aftermath, its long-term effects. In doing so, he is able to make us really consider what it means to survive, and to continue to believe.


From the Hardcover edition.

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Product Description

From Amazon

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 humor, not tragedy, is the Vancouver author's strong suit. But give Coupland 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 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, Amazon.ca --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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 the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
4.3 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Never mind the clanking narrative Aug. 4 2004
Format:Hardcover
I read plenty of books, but few of them are novels, probably because, as I age, I can "hear the devices clanking away" (in the words of Richard Rodriguez, author of "Brown," who knows what he's talking about).
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.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Good characterization drives novel March 8 2004
Format:Hardcover
"Hey Nostradamus!" has an atypical structure, each of its four chapters being narrated in first person by a different character. The first part of the story is told from the point of view of a victim of a high school massacre that is obviously patterned after the Columbine incident. Her recounting of that violent day sets the pace for the rest of the book, as the subsequent characters are, in turn, effected by its events. Each of them is lead, at some point, to question his or her religious convictions - some are strengthened and others are lost.
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.
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By James
Format:Hardcover
Hey Nostradamus! deals with themes that are common in Coupland's previous works; relationships, love, cultural alienation, death and the self. Here he has branched out a little further, looking at these concepts on, what feels to be, a broader, more encompassing scope. Whilst his earlier work doesn't consider God in relation to these themes, Hey Nostradamus! puts faith, religion and a sense of God towards the forefront, and whilst the book is easily more spiritual than its predecessors, it is by no means a book doused with spiritual cues.
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.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A strong story, in Coupland's inimitable style Dec 22 2003
Format:Hardcover
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 rendered the required the reader to suspend their normal perspective, the worrying aspect of "Hey Nostradamus!" is that the principle surreal element is a school shooting that is, in fact, all too plausible. One aspect of the shooting is recounted from a victim's perspective (and from the perspective of immediately after the event), whereas the other story strands are taken from the vantage of several years after the event. The chain reactions from this are elegantly woven together - the husband of the victim who can not come to terms with the event, his relationship to his father and how that develops as a consequence of the tragedy, how his family interacts with his father. As with most of Coupland's later works, this story evolves through the different perspectives, rather than follows a rigid plot and time line.
As either an introduction to those who have not read Coupland before, of for established fans, this is a volume that is well worth reading.
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Most recent customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars good
This is a story about high school massacre in Vancouver in 1988 and how that massacre affected various characters in the novel, at least on the surface. Read more
Published on Jan. 10 2011 by elfdart
3.0 out of 5 stars Touching
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 more
Published on Sept. 17 2007 by sainte-carmen
5.0 out of 5 stars Hey Great Book!
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 more
Published on Nov. 2 2006 by Natalie R. Dinn
5.0 out of 5 stars Uniquely Douglas Coupland,
This book was anything but boring. I always enjoy the unique writing-style of Douglas Coupland. He has never disappointed me. Read more
Published on July 7 2004 by Victoria Taylor Murray
5.0 out of 5 stars Much better than Vernon God Little
I thought this book was a return to form for Coupland as many of the other reviewer's here have mentioned. Read more
Published on Feb. 20 2004 by Amazon Customer
3.0 out of 5 stars Not sure what is up here--but it is Coupland after all.
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 more
Published on Dec 28 2003 by Robert Wellen
5.0 out of 5 stars Sometimes Unsettling but Worth Reading
This is not a novel that ties up every loose end and makes it clear what the writer's message or point is. Life can be unsettling and it can be hard to understand. Read more
Published on Dec 8 2003 by John Standiford
5.0 out of 5 stars Perhaps Coupland's Best Novel Yet
Hey Nostradamus! may be Douglas Coupland's best novel yet. In telling the story of a Columbine-like massacre Coupland resists the temptation to concentrate on the whys and hows of... Read more
Published on Nov. 5 2003 by Stephen Holland
4.0 out of 5 stars Hey Nostradamus!
The Columbine Massacre is an event which shocked and impacted the lives of many people in a small community in Colorado. Read more
Published on Nov. 4 2003 by Chase B. Rumble
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