There are Douglas Coupland novels that feel like a quiet, foggy, West Coast morning spent over a cup of tea. Others are a Zipper ride at a nighttime carnival with a belly full of fryer foods. Worst. Person. Ever. is the latter: flashy, loud, a bit unsettling, and screamingly fun. It gleefully pushes past absurdity into farce.
Raymond Gunt – a moniker I direct you to Urban Dictionary to define – is assigned as a cameraman for an island-based survival reality show. He’s given his choice of personal assistant, whom Ray assumes will act as his de facto slave. Because Ray is rather a bastard, he chooses Neal, a homeless man who recently bested him in a street tussle. What follows is a series of mishaps so ridiculous, so over-the-top, the reader simply needs to let go and enjoy the ride.
Ray and Neal are an archetypal odd couple. Neal asks for nothing from life; by contrast, Ray is angry at the world simply for existing. With Ray and Neal, the line between adversary and ally is constantly shifting, though they share a true affection. Their ribald dialogue elicits real laughs.
In some ways, readers know what they will get with Coupland: set so precisely in time and place, each novel contains its own planned obsolescence. Worst. Person. Ever. defines its jargon – name-meshing, Gumbys, Sharpie – by way of a cheeky, in-text glossary. (Coupland’s first novel, Generation X, employed a similar tactic, though the terms were mostly of Coupland’s own making.) “What’s weird about [the song ‘Come on Eileen’],” says one glossary entry, “is that it was so huge at the time and now you listen to it and wonder what the hell was everyone thinking? Well, that’s pop culture for you.”
With the glossary, it feels as though Coupland is acknowledging the drawbacks of entrenching his work in pop. However, it is also an acknowledgement that the least endurable elements of popular culture are often the most enjoyable.