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The Gum Thief

by Douglas Coupland

Right from the get-go we’re deep in Coupland country with The Gum Thief: the über-now pop culture references, the casual, deliciously snide vernacular, the loopy, neurotic characters you can’t help but love, and of course, the late-night conversational tone of Coupland himself, whose writing reads like a phone call from an old friend. No one else quite captures the dystopian malaise of our post-postmodernist consumer-junkie culture quite like he does. Call it CoMo: Coupland Modernism.

In this, his 11th novel, Coupland introduces us to Roger Thorpe, a divorced, middle-aged “sales associate” at Staples, plodding through his forties while avoiding the latest office furniture shipment and drinking himself into oblivion. Enter Bethany, goth girl and Staples co-worker, who strikes up an unusual and touching correspondence with Roger, their lives unfolding alongside Roger’s abysmal novella-in-progress, Glove Pond. The novel-within-the-novel is a delightful device – reading bad writing has never been more fun. Or funny.

Through the letters Roger and Bethany share, Coupland presents the deadening banality of the contemporary moment. How we drive from parking lot to parking lot, trapped in one big-box store after another, waiting in line for The End of the World. Like Coupland’s other novels, there’s a feeling of pre-apocalyptic anxiety in the lives of Roger and Bethany. And yet, as in Generation X, it is through their shared friendship, and their stories, that Roger and Bethany transcend the meaninglessness of their lives.