Monday, August 7

Book Review Bonus: Douglas Coupland's Eleanor Rigby

Due to a little overbooking incident, Southwest Airlines is putting up Camp Blue Gal in Chicago this evening, in a motel which has...gasp...high speed DSL! The flight here from Seattle was looong. I finished a book and wrote a review for the blog on the plane today, so here ya go.

I only wish I'd known ahead of time I was gonna be in The Windy City. I would have invited Paul the Spud and Franklin to have a beer on me. Do the gay bars in Chicago have a "bring a plump straight housewife" night? It's getting to the point where I might pass as yer Mom. Gawd.

Say what you like about just how Bad Things Are, one of the tender mercies of our time is that we live in a great age for fiction (not talking causes for war here). Many of us discovered wunderkind author Douglas Coupland with his stellar debut Generation X (1991), in which he defined and decryed the economic and social second-class citizenship of those of us born just after the baby boom. We Gen Xers have always had one distinct advantage over the boomers--hey, we're younger than you! Bwa ha ha! But a now older (and aren't we all) Douglas Coupland reveals in his latest novel those universals that no generation can escape: loneliness, mortality, and those constant "what ifs" that keep us revisiting our past.

The plot of Eleanor Rigby is very similar to another bittersweet production of 2005, the film Transamerica. Both of these works play with the idea of "mothers discovering long lost sons." There is also in these works a transformative action. In the movie it is both the cross-country journey and Bree's sex change. In the book there are different journeys and different transformations. Both works are equally terrific and Blue Gal recommended.

Back to the book. Liz Dunn is a cubicle office worker at a faceless company. She has lived alone her whole life and has very little to show us except a drab condo and a bland commute.

"I feel like that one Scrabble tile that has no letter on it. I'm a Styrofoam puff used in packaging. I'm a napkin at McDonald's. I'm invisible tape."

When the Hale Bopp Comet appears in the sky, she resolves to change her life. Almost instantly, she meets her long lost son Jeremy, a 20 something she conceived on a high school trip to Italy. Jeremy, a victim of both MS and a party-drug habit, contacts her from a hospital bed, and Liz takes him on more from a sense of desperation with her own life than from maternal instinct.

Much of Eleanor Rigby is classic Coupland: the meaningless office work and even more meaningless office relationships, real and imagined things falling from the sky, and sharp humor in odd situations. Only Coupland could find both grace and humor in a German prison cell where the prisoner only knows what time it is by how much sugar is in the current meal--breakfast is sweet.

Coupland sets himself to the huge task of saying Something about Big Things: life, death, family, loneliness, God and the Universe, in the confines of a sweet little book with a heroine we're not sure we like on page one. That we love her at the end, and have also learned unexpected lessons about the Big Somethings, is testament to Copeland's mature, lean prose, and remarkable talent.


  1. Anonymous11:23 PM

    I often kvetch about Serious Fiction, but this one sounds good enough to consider.

    Have some Chicago pizza for me. Are the kids with you, or are they with Mr. BG?

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  3. Sounds like yet another wonderful Coupland novel. Shampoo Planet has been my favorite of his, so far, but I think this may be pushing into its territory in terms of human significance.

    I hope the next leg of the travel works out well for you... finishing a book so far sounds pretty good, by way of travel-with-kids achievement!

    8:15 AM

  4. Anonymous12:31 PM

    sounds good - thanks for the review

  5. Ok I have to there anything to do with the beatles in the book? I ask as they wrote a song with the same title. Pippa

  6. Bien sur, Pippa. As Liz's defining characteristic is loneliness, and she is self aware of the fact, ah look at all the lonely people? She makes eleanorrigby her email addy. That's Coupland for ya, always get a software angle in there...


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