Waterstones, Chichester. Three For Two. Coupland, JPod. Cunningham, Specimen Days. Self, The Book of Dave.
Because it was on a three-for-two I bought the swanky presentation format JPod: a large shiny hardback with the author signature on a Bloomsbury books sticker, dropped into a presentation box that also had a minifig puppet in it. The glossy brick format is supposed to say "luxe" and "wow" and "rarrr!" at you, but I keep sneaking peaks at the Book of Dave, whose biro-drawn cover is so sweetly done that it's like sandpaper for the eye. (I haven't read the Self or Cunningham books yet.)
JPod is like Microserfs but bigger and darker, and this time Coupland has Couplandised himself into the book as a character, one of the more interesting characters present. They're so flat that you don't really care what happens to them, though the capsule biographies are convenient for telling them apart. DC has never done character well, but does usually get his thumb on the cultural pulse - except that here it feels slightly off.
The puppet is a "Cubefigure" which, without its customary environment, looks like a half-hearted LEGO (TM) man, grown up and disillusioned. However, the book cover shows the LEGO ur-minifig, and a misprint. (Maybe this is all part of Coupland's [disap]point[ment]?) I think it had articulated wrist and ankle joints, but can't remember because it is somewhere in my room at the Captain's place, from when I was there for two months after he broke his leg. Why couldn't it have been LEGO or an Availabot?
So skip ahead to the good bit: pp414-426, where Ethan's dad voices an evil, apocalyptic Ronald McDonald: "Taste the scorched fruit inside my pies... I smash your bones on rocks of ice churned by spews of cola". There are witty apercus, clever zeitgeisty lists and adventurous/whimsical typography. But it all feels very neutral, deadpan, unaffecting - the nihilism itself seems purposeless, depleted, running out of air. Pfff... what's the point, we are being told.
The back of the book has the words: "very evil... ... very funny" printed over the DIY instructions for an IKEA-style office cubicle. It might have better announced: "Very little... ... almost nothing".
The critics elsewhere:
Dennis Lim suggests that accelerated culture may finally have left him behind: "It reads as if the author, routinely patronized as a marketing savant, zeitgeist chaser, and slick neologist throughout his career, had absorbed every single negative criticism of his work and set out to confirm them all with self-loathing vigor. Accordingly, JPod is smug, vacuous, easily distracted, and often supremely irritating."
Matt Thorne: "I used to think Coupland was slightly too benign a novelist. Now he feels like one of the most nihilistic: a change that has improved his fiction immeasurably."
Sam Leith: "Microserfs and Generation X, the two Coupland novels JPod most resembles, and most consciously recapitulates, were peculiarly Jane Austenish comedies of manners set in versions of the real world. This is a peculiarly Douglas Couplandish comedy of manners set in a Douglas Coupland novel. [...] I hope I can't be accused of spoiling the ending by revealing that the last page reads, in big letters: "Play Again Y/N?"
Susan Tomaselli thought it's far from obsolete.
Patrick Ness: "(T)hat's what it is - more of the same, not a sequel, just an upgrade, Microserfs version 2.0, and therefore of limited interest unless you've bought in to the original software."
Michael Agger: "No one has Coupland's ability to spot cultural outliers—the little gems of nonsense that can both jar you and impart joy. Coupland is his generation's most interesting curator. While he may more outwardly resemble a curmudgeon (he has a gray beard now), he maintains his committed embrace of the new. I just wonder if he should stop playing around with that vintage technology: the novel."