Since 1991's zeitgeist defining Generation X, Douglas Coupland has been steadily building a career that keeps pushing away from his debut novel yet is never able to eclipse its shadow. Recent novel All Families Are Psychotic, despite its rubbish title, was far and away Coupland's most mature and developed work. For the first time, the book's protagonist was not a member of the novel's hip and youngish target demographic, but instead a middle aged woman suffering with HIV. Coupland additionally broke from his by now traditional first person narration to the less personal third person, pushing his abilities as a writer prone to relying on his first person narratives to reveal - and revel - in the narrator's character and idiosyncrasies. The novel was easily the best thing Coupland had written and made good on the promise of his early work and demonstrated that he very well might just escape Generation X yet.
Strangely, Hey Nostradamus!, Coupland's most recent novel, both pulls back from the advances of "All Families …" and builds on them, taking them further. The novel concerns a 1988 Canadian high school shooting and the fall out from it over the course of the next fifteen years. Coupland has reverted to first person narration, but instead of a single narrator carrying us over the course of those fifteen years, the novel is broken into four different sections, with four different narrators. The first is Cheryl, a victim of the shooting narrating in the moments between life and death. Eleven years later, her secret high school husband Jason takes up the narrative, leading us through his troubled life, before passing it to Heather, Jason's girlfriend. The final narrator is Reg, Jason's estranged father. The novel puts along in a fairly unassuming manner until Reg takes the narrative, an interesting - but just so - story of faith and loss and redemption, the sorts of themes that are becoming more and more prevalent in Coupland's work, but in Reg, Coupland has found a voice that sits outside is own hipster/edge of pop culture persona that informs most of his writing and created a character and voice that redefines what Coupland can - and should - do with his writing.
One gets the sense that every character that has ever served as a protagonist in a Coupland book has either read Generation X or would like it if they did, even All Families' … Janet, yet Reg steps away from that. A broken middle aged man whose faith in God has destroyed all the relationships he once held dear, Reg is a man seeking redemption from the dead and the lost, and from his God Himself, before realising the only redemption he can hope for - and the only redemption he truly needs - is from himself. His is a striking voice that redeems the novel in its last act and rewards the reader for sticking through what had been otherwise an exercise in structure that never seemed to escape the fact that it was an exercise in structure and not a completely engrossing novel. Coupland is growing as a writer and while showing some tremendous growth with Reg, here's hoping his next novel is more successful in its storytelling.