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
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.