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City of Glass: Douglas Coupland’s Vancouver

by Douglas Coupland

Reviewing (and reading, for that matter) Douglas Coupland is made difficult by Coupland’s approach to writing. One can never be sure if the perceived weaknesses or shortcomings are inadvertent or the result of some postmodern master-plan.

For example, if City of Glass: Douglas Coupland’s Vancouver seems glib, vapid, and facile, one cannot simply dismiss it out of hand, as this may be a deliberate tactic on Coupland’s part, a meta-textual gambit to underscore, say, the lack of depth and history, the surface nature, of his subject city. Perhaps it’s even a statement on the superficiciality of the belief that one can know a place through a book. Or maybe, just maybe, the book actually is glib, vapid, and facile.

“I get lots of visitors every year, and they always seem to ask the same questions about Vancouver,” Coupland writes. City of Glass atttempts to answer those questions about his hometown through an alphabetical series of entries, from “The Harbour” to “Japanese Slackers” to “The Lions Gate Bridge.” The entries are complemented (and commented upon) with over 100 photographs.

Coupland has proven himself a skilled observer and a talented writer, but neither skill is particularly in evidence here. Of Vancouver marijuana, for example, Coupland writes “It’s a billion times more powerful than anything you ever smoked in high school.” One wants to believe that the stonerish tone and exaggeration are deliberate, but the rest of the entry offers little evidence. The phrasing is lazy and the comment incorrect.

There is enough wit and genuine insight on display to remind the reader of Coupland’s observational skills – the section on “Japanese Slackers,” for example, balances an explanation of the phenomenon with witty asides that will have Vancouverites nodding their heads in understanding and chuckling knowingly. But too often Coupland seems more content with being clever than with being “good” (you’ll have to excuse the antiquated value judgement).