Saturday, October 6, 2007

BOOK: The Gum Thief by Douglas Coupland

The Gum Thief by Douglas Coupland arrived in the mail with a pack of gum. How cool was that? Of course, anything to do with Coupland is cool, beginning with his beginning book, Generation X. He's Canadian, and he writes in a very readable humorous way. This is my fourth book this year of his, (Generation X, Hey Nostradamus!, and All Families are Pyschotic) and they have all been very different, but all good, full of quirky characters who are realistic and witty, and drunk like Steve and Gloria, characters in the story within the story of this book.

From the inside cover:

Meet Roger, a divorced, middle-aged “aisles associate” at a Staples outlet, condemned to restocking reams of twenty-lb. bond paper for the rest of his life. And then there’s Roger’s co-worker Bethany, who’s at the end of her Goth phase, and young enough to be looking at fifty more years of sorting the red pens from the blue in Aisle Six.
One day, Bethany comes across Roger’s notebook in the staff room. When she opens it up, she discovers that this old guy she’s never considered as quite human is writing mock diary entries pretending to be her–and spookily, he is getting her right. She also learns he has a tragedy in his past–and suddenly he no longer seems like just a paper-stocking robot with a name tag.

That's the plot, but there is a whole lot more happening too. It's about making friends 'anonymously' through writings, and how you reveal yourself more perhaps that way than you might in face to face conversation. I was thinking about blogs and chatrooms on line. It is about the difference in how you think between your twenties and your forties. Coupland, like myself is fortyish, and I recognize his wisdom: what you gain in perpsective in your forties is balanced by what hope you lose at the same time: "All the tea in China couldn't make me go through my twenties again, but at the same time I'm jealous that you have such a broad swath of life ahead of you."

The GumThief is full of Coupland's trademark cultural references, and they can be decidedly Canadian such as the mention of "skyrocketing cancer rates in the intensive potato farming areas of Prince Edward Island" during a rant about potato skins, which amused me. Not the cancer; the PEI reference. Coupland is promoting the book with some youtube videos he narrates, with only words from the book. Here's the one about Roger, where he has summed up his life in bullet form for Bethany.

One of the funnier characters was Roger, a cranky customer who turns up at Staples periodically, and proceeds to rant about anything. The employees take pleasure in having him go off on rants, and they can be pretty funny. They also touch on some serious things and some not so serious. Kind of like the whole book. These characters are on the fringe of society, trying to get along, looking for some love and friendship, dealing with all kinds of sadness that we usually can't see. Another great book; Coupland hasn't disappointed me yet.


  1. The YouTube video was an interesting way to advertise. This sounds like a good book. I've added it to my wishlist. :-)

  2. Is that one down on the Canadian challenge, already?! Btw, have you seen the movie based on his "Souvenir" books?

  3. I love the YouTube video. That's Coupland narrating? I've only read one Coupland book, so far: Girlfriend in a Coma. It was one of my favorite reads in 2006. I've got All Families Are Psychotic. I'm glad to see you enjoyed it (and everything else you've read).

  4. Poor Roger! Sounds like I should have included Coupland on my Canadian Challenge. It may have to wait until next year, though. :(

  5. wendycat - I enjoy Coupland a lot this year

    john - no. Movie? I'll prob read another one, as the book was nearly done before the challenge started, and I don't mind reading another Coupland.

  6. bookfool - there are two more videos at youtube, and 6 more to come. All Families Are Psychotic was a good read this year, because it is true! And, I was reading it around the time of the crazy astronaut lady. When you read it, you'll know why that was neat.

    booklogged - Roger is sad, and Coupland is good. I wasn't fond of Generation X, but the rest have been great.

  7. Have you people in Canada been able to see Coupland's screenplay, Everything's Going Green? I saw it premiered here in Britain, and the director said that they were having problems over distribution. So I just wondered if it had been shown much yet. My sons and I (we're all big Coupland fans) really enjoyed it...


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