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on June 6, 2002
For all of the clear-sighted, rambling and often hilarious pop-culture regurgitation Douglas Coupland has gleefully provided over the years, his control of prose may ultimately reveal as much about his generation than the thousands of details he's cross-referenced. _Miss Wyoming_, a screwball blend of satire and tongue-in-cheek formula romance, is a perfect example; it coasts along on delicious, eloquent rants on the intricate facades of American life but lacks the sincerity and attention to the subtleties of human behavior desperately needed to get under our skin.
As a character, Ramsay-esque child beauty pageant queen-turned-sitcom star Susan Colgate is vaguely drawn (every aspect of what passes for her personality is justified by Freudian pop psychology) and never seems quite clever enough to pull off some of the stunts the narrative requires. Her mother is a pastiche of great camp icons - part Mommie Dearest, part Divine - and between her trailer-trash upbringing, her constant exposure to female rivalry, and her brushes with the rich and famous, you'd think she might be able to wrap her enhanced lips around some juicy (or at least campy) dialogue. But like her carrot-tanned, straight-outta "Valley of the Dolls" romantic destiny, failed Hollywood director John Johnson, she's moved through an outrageous set of circus acts and freak coincidences with many chances to meditate on her failure but no memorable sound bites to call her own.
Giving more space to fewer characters is not the best tactic for Coupland, who has perfected his dry, witty monologue on the banal images littering the American consciousness but has yet to infuse them with a strong sense of vernacular or lend them to the rhythms of intimate conversation. This tactic works well when writing about overeducated slackers or codependent geeks, easy surrogates for Coupland's rants, but feels out of place in a narrative about ordinary people in incredibly bizarre circumstances. And the circumstances here, while often whimsical and amusing, veer too far beyond the realm of believability to sustain the caustic bite we might expect from a parody of our image-obsessed, youth-driven pop culture. In _Miss Wyoming_, we are treated to a series of events recycled from soap-opera plots - including a plane crash, a surprise death, and a kidnapping - that are good for a few jokes but veer too far away from the novel's satirical aim to strike any targets. And while the parallel plotlines are very tightly constructed, the characters within them are not drawn thoroughly enough to make the payoff truly rewarding.
As a collection of quotables, _Miss Wyoming_ has enough playful prose and incisive observation to remain fun and engaging. But with more focus, a sharper edge, and fewer flights of fancy, it could have retained its relevance long after its references became "retro."
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At its heart, this book is about identity: shedding identity, losing identity, finding identity, all set against a presumably shallow Hollywood backdrop. The characters are basically stereotypes -- the burned out producer, the former child model -- bumping up against each other in an attempt to create meaning.
Coupland's talent shows through here, despite the hackneyed premise of the book. He manages to invigorate many of these old stereotypes and create a novel which does redeem itself to some extent from its iffy initial premise. But I agree with a previous reviewer that this is NOT the best introduction to Coupland's work.
What he accomplishes here is a demonstration of his considerable skill, working himself into and out of corners most writers wouldn't touch. But in the end, this book is unsatisfying, leaving me dreaming of the realistic characters he gave voice to in Shampoo Planet, Microserfs, and perhaps most strikingly, Girlfriend in a Coma.
Coupland may have begun the Gen-X literary revolution, but he has dropped the ball rather obviously with "Miss Wyoming". I hope he'll find his way back on track in time for his next novel, due out this fall.
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on May 3, 2001
This was my first experience with a Douglas Coupland book, and to be quite honest, probably my last. I kept reading and reading and reading, hoping to find something redeeming in this completely stale satire--sadly, it feels dashed off, all the way to the bitter end. Weaknesses? Try the cardboard characters to start with. Any time an author lifts a persona from real life, you have to wonder if they're really trying any more. Here you have real life Hollywood producers Don Simpson (now dead) and Jerry Bruckheimer in the cardboard forms of main character John Johnson and his pal Ivan--Hollywood director and producer of big budget garbage. The other main character is a former teen beauty queen, turned moderate sitcom star, turned rock star wife, turned druggie--talk about cliché.
Both come near to dying and subsequently run away from the sad lives they've constructed, trying to reimagine themselves and start life fresh. But they've been living such self-destructive lives in rarefied circles few of us will ever encounter, which makes it hard to feel much sympathy for them. This has all been done before, with characters that actually feel real, and with writing that actually sparkles. The story, such as it is, takes place over a three-day period interspersed with many a flashback. The convoluted non-linear structure feels wholly contrived, as if Coupland realized he'd have to perform some legerdemain to distract from the stale soap opera material.
The notion that this book is some kind of masterpiece of satire is ridiculous the moment you look at what is being satirized: Hollywood, beauty pageants, celebrity, pop culture? All have been skewered ten times over and ten times better by a raft of books and films--we are given nothing new or fresh to chew on here. A fairly disappointing book, considering Coupland's reputation. Oh yes, one last editorial annoyance: Why are there Anglicism scattered throughout the book?
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on January 17, 2001
There's a scene in the film "Notting Hill" where Hugh Grant's affable and plain-but-charming bookstore owner character, William Thacker, takes mega-star Julia Robert's character, Anna Scott, on a date to his sister's low-key birthday party. Around the dinner table, consisting of William's family and friends and Anna Scott, they all tell sad personal stories to see who is the most pathetic, and thus the most deserving of the last, treasured brownie. After William goes, they decide that he is surely the most pathetic of all and thus most deserving the prize; but Anna Scott asks for a chance and amid the scoffs of William's family, she reveals the true hardships of celebrity. She is responded with a brief, uncomfortable silence, before someone jokingly says, "Nice try!" and they all laugh about (Anna included) and move on with their evening. Still, Anna's point about the fragility of celebrity is made.
Douglas Coupland's "Miss Wyoming" shares much with this scene. In it, celebrities are constantly in a state of flux, between their desires for fame, their inabilities to cope with the loss of fame, and their attempts at both hiding away from the spotlight and then exploiting their various disappearances in such a way as to, of futily, re-land them in the territory of celebrity.
The story is that Susan Colage, child veteran of beauty pagaents and former hot television actress, has disappeared. Again. The first time was in the wake of a plane crash in which she was the only survivor. Still, mysteries abound about the year she was gone, and slowly Coupland reveals what happened over that year over the course of the narrative.
Narratively, Coupland has chosen to jump around in time, beginning his story in the present, but often (and often arbitrarily) jumping into the past to shed light on confusing aspects of the main narrative. In the main narrative, we follow John Johnson, a Bruckheimer-esque Hollywood producer who rose quickly to fame and fell just as fast after a pair of flops, as he seeks the newly disappeared Susan out after he realizes that it was she he saw in a vision during a near death experience. Yes, it's quite the convoluted situation, but this brief description hardly scratches the surface of where Coupland takes his story.
And therein lies the problem; while Coupland is undeniably a fabulous writer and extremely talented, at a certain point there's little emotional resonance here. By the time you turn to the last chapter and discover just what the hell is going on, you're left a little more empty than you probably should be considering what happens.
On the good side, Coupland fills his novel with intelligent jokes and really relishes in the absolute weirdness of some of his characters. My personal favorites are the video store employee Ryan and his Mensa-worthy girlfriend Vanessa, who see themselves (rightly so!) as the next stage of human evolution; their intelligence and ability to utilize each other's talents is creative-bordering-creepy, and it's fabulously entertaining. I loved these two so much that I'd give anything to see a novel devoted to them.
Unfortunately, the bulk of the novel comprises the adventures, mostly told in flashback, of Susan and John (not together, but in their own separate, yet similar, stories). While there are moments of interest, I left the book feeling somehow unfulfilled. Perhaps the book's saving grace is the fact that it reads so quickly that you'll hardly have a chance to be bored. That said, there are enough little splendid moments to make the book a worthwhile read, particularly for fans in need of a Coupland fix, but for those who've never read Coupland, I suggest you start with "Microserfs" or "Girlfriend In A Coma," whichever of the two seem most compelling to you. "Miss Wyoming" stands, at most, as a bright candle to Coupland's previous bonfires.
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on August 12, 2001
I came to Coupland late, so I don't have the axe to grind of "not as good as Generation-X". In the last 12 months, I've read all Couplands books and I think that this and Shampoo Planet are my favourites. I've read the reviews below and cannot understand some of them. One complained of the number of Anglicisms in the book. Now, for one Coupland is Canadian so uses more Anglicisms than someone from Dead-dog Indiana, secondly - try being British and having Americanisms rammed at you all day. The worst comment was that the satire was pointed at targets that were too easy. This misses the point of the book. What Coupland does so well is to take easy targets and make you care about them -- it would be easy to mock a grown-up child beauty queen and her monster of a mother, it's a lot harder to make you understand what makes them tick and see them as real people. Buy and read this book, then go away and buy and read all Coupland's others (apart from Lara's Book).
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on January 11, 2002
This book came to me at the perfect time. I like quirky, unusual stories that poke fun at the establishment and make me laugh. I was in the mood for such a book and lucked out when I read "Miss Wyoming." The story was thoroughly entertaining. While it may seem like a no-brainer to make fun of a beauty queen and her white-trash mom, Coupland keeps you entertained with a chain of events that is anything but predictable. He knows that these characters could and probably do exist, but the combination of all these weirdos in one book and the journey they take is laugh-out-loud funny. No one takes themselves too seriously, a keen point which keeps the story fresh. The characters know they have foibles, personality quirks and such, but they face life and deal with it with results that are fun to watch from the sidelines. His writing is clear and keeps the momentum going. It was a perfect book to read before bed or while sitting in the sunshine.
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on May 2, 2002
I avoided this author's work as I hated the moniker "Generation X" that was attached to it. Being of this supposed group,I really didn't want to read a book claiming(or being claimed as) the book that defined myself and other people in one broad stroke(or so I thought) So I skipped that one,but, after reading "Miss Wyoming" I just might get around to it. Coupland really has a handle on all things pop culture and he's a good writer as well. The story seemed convuluted at times,but then I realized that was the tone of the book,which is full of bizarre coincidences and situations. And,as odd as these people seem,you really do end up(for the most part) caring about them. Btw,Ryan & Vanessa,two supporting charactors in the book,were interesting enough for a story of their own.Overall, A better book than I expected.
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on January 14, 2002
Miss Wyoming is simply a great book. While I enjoyed Microserfs for it's witty and satirical look at life in the mid to late 1990s, but this book has much more depth. Life After God, a super book, shows the depths that Coupland is capable of. Again, he does not abandon the style that brought him this far. Colgate and Johnson (who seems supiciously like Don Simpson, if Simpson had lived and found redemption) are fully drawn and lively characters. You care about what happens to them. Colgate's Jonbenet/Tina Yothers (okay, not a beauty queen) life rings true. Johnson sets out like John Sullivan in Preston Sturges' Sullivan's Travels. The results of his journey are different, but just as important. The love story and mystery work well. Miss Wyoming works as satire, love story, and social commentary. A terrific read.
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on April 19, 2001
This was my first Coupland book. I know nothing about this author or his other works. I was in an airport desperate for something to read, and I grabbed this book at random. This book was excellent! The satire was perfect, the two main characters were extremely likeable, the villain (Susan's mother) was detestable, the plot was great, and the suspense was perfect. This was an excellent read! I could not put it down. I didn't give it 5 stars because there are some serious continuity issues in the book, and I'm sort of a stickler for things like that. These errors should have been picked up by an editor.
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on February 15, 2001
If this was the only Coupland book I had read, I would have declared it a five-star, but compared to "Girlfriend" and (my personal favorite) "Shampoo" it is one minute step below those two excellent books. One thing is clear: with Coupland around, and turning out new novels, readers can find good art outside of Evil Empire of the tear jerker, Oprah's Book Club (I admit I have read a few). I will eagerly await his next book. If you get a chance, go see him at a reading; he is very funny.
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