Miss Wyoming by Douglas Coupland is a strange book. Its fast-paced narrative is obviously influenced by modern snappy editing cinema techniques. Each chapter jumps the reader not only between the stories of the two main characters, Susan and John, but also between different stages of their lives. The plot begins with a chance meeting between the two and unfolds over the course of a day, interspersed with this is the history of Susan Colgate and John Johnson. This gradual familiarity allows us to feel close to the characters from the beginning, as each twist in the plot is matched by an explanation from their pasts.
It is a clichéd love story on one level and an insightful social commentary on another. Coupland’s eye for people is astounding. The characters are entirely believable their motives credible too. His descriptions of modern society, its emphasis and values, are slipped in subtly yet underlie the entire book. I feel that perhaps he intended the novel to be an allegory, and if this is the case then in my opinion it falls a little short. The social commentary on the nature of human desire is so unobtrusive that it is unnoticeable and unapparent. On another day I might not have noticed this subversive-ish undercurrent.
Perhaps this ambivalence in the writing between fiction and fable is where the problem lies. In failing to focus on either moral message or characters and plot he falls between two stools. His characters lose out (in my opinion they lack that oomph which makes a character truly real) and his moral judgments are so slight that they are unclear. In an obviously satirical book by the likes of George Orwell the emphasis is not really put on making the characters or the story lifelike but instead on the message the author wants to convey. It is possible to do the opposite, to write about life in fiction, and to still retain a message but that takes great skill not only in writing but also in observation and philosophy. The best example of this kind of book in my opinion is The Crossing by Cormac McCarthy. Coupland takes neither route fully and as an obvious consequence achieves neither result.
That having been said, it is a very enjoyable read, with great humour and many ‘I can relate to that’ moments. The issue discussed above is simply a vague feeling I had when reading it, that the purpose of the book was uncertain and rough, and as a result in my opinion the text is in places somewhat roughly hewn. This is the first book I have read by Douglas Coupland (and I read it in a rush) so it is quite possible that I just don’t ‘get’ him yet. I’ll read another few and get back to you.