Quill and Quire


« Back to
Book Reviews

Girlfriend in a Coma

by Douglas Coupland

You feel a sense of loss, in even your most intimate relationships. The pungent idealism of your teens has been rendered, leaving mere ash, a self-preserving, spiritless pursuit of career. You are very, very tired.

Diagnosis? You are a product of Douglas Coupland’s imagination, though you may not drop brand names with such swaggering aplomb, nor enjoy acquaintances so perverse, well-coiffed, or downwardly mobile as the characters of his past books. Yet fear not, oh ailing thirtysomething, for your pessimistic, neocommercial, X-ish nihilism, once considered terminal, is about to be cured.

In Girlfriend in a Coma, Coupland’s sixth book, an unknowingly pregnant 18-year-old, Karen Ann McNeil, falls into a coma in 1979 and reawakens in 1997 to discover that she has an 18-year-old daughter Lisa. While mother and daughter are the same age mentally, Karen is a product of the 1970s, Lisa of the ’90s.

Karen and her boyfriend Richard display enough self-deprecating irony to attenuate any sickly sentiment. They, along with their friends who seem unable to grow beyond their North Vancouver suburb, graduate high school on the cusp between the idealistic ’70s and the Thatcherite decade that follows. They drift. They make money. They blow much of it on drugs and drink. Then, they wake up metaphorically, as Karen (the sleeping time capsule and sacrificial hero) wakes up literally, to see the Earth’s last day.

The pacing lags when Coupland fast-forwards through the ’80s, and there are times when the endless introspection is unconvincing, as when Richard ignores a passing train that almost squashes him as he considers the larger pattern of his life. But Karen’s awakening and the post apocalyptic X-Files future these seven friends must endure rekindles the narrative and, unlike in Coupland’s earlier Life After God, introduce a spirituality that reads true. Richard recognizes, “I was growing up and was at the stage where smart-ass one-liners were no longer in and of themselves adequately meaningful to sustain a conversation.” Thankfully Coupland too has awakened.