- Worst. Person. Ever.
- Douglas Coupland
- Random House Canada
Most ideas are bad; most idea people are fakers. The first part was probably always true; the second part is maybe truer now that anyone with a Tumblr or an unlocked Twitter account has a recognized public forum. While the internet has democratized who can have ideas, and how, it has also diluted their individual value. Ideas, good ones and bad ones, get flattened by the style and cycle of the internet, and being an idea person, or what used to be called a "public intellectual," has fundamentally changed in its meaning and prospects. It seems like if there's still a viable way to be an idea person, it's that it should be a pivot from single-platform self-seriousness, and it should probably be fun: it's better to be a Neil deGrasse Tyson, who tweeted scientific corrections to the movie Gravity, than a Jonathan Franzen, whose novels are way too good and prescient about contemporary life for him to misunderstand the online experience as completely as he seems to.
Douglas Coupland has been, and remains, an idea guy, and he seems to be having the most fun. His new novel, Worst. Person. Ever. is a nastily immersive speed-read in the manner of Sam Lipsyte's The Ask or anything by Chuck Palahniuk. In it, Raymond is an English cameraman, on the jerk spectrum somewhere in between Keith Talent and that guy who comes to a party with nothing and leaves, at 4 a.m., with four cans of beer stuffed into his coat pockets. Low on cash, Raymond is sent on assignment to Kiribati to film a Survivor-style reality show by his contemptuous ex-wife-cum-agent Fiona. From there, the Jason Bourne-obsessed Raymond goes on a misanthropic smash-and-grab – one guy literally dies, of a heart attack, after enduring Raymond's spitting vitriol – in London and L.A.; through airport lounges and on international flights; during a Hawaiian hospitalization; over the Pacific Trash Vortex; on an air-force base; and in a hotel, and golf carts, and a Zodiac.
Coupland throws punches at the widest breadth of contemporary (you might say "accelerated") pop culture, inclusive of Tyler Brûlé's Monocle, reality television and password registration. The book "began, improbably, as an attempt in McSweeney's No. 31 to reinvigorate the biji," the introductory note to the novel reads, a Chinese literary form which "can contain anecdotes, quotations, random musings, philological speculations, literary criticism" and whatever else. But W.P.E. generally adheres to the familiar, ironic exaggeration of literary satire, instead of Coupland's more usual simulacrum of popular culture. The novel is also overwhelmingly vulgar. Coupland, very much a literalist, makes significant use of Raymond's personal grotesqueries, including his "kacked" pants; the character tells a homeless man that he doesn't want to get "superAIDS" from his beard and calls his assistant a "fecal-scented golem." It's pretty gross. Raymond is a one-man Greek chorus pulling down his pants; the satire is shamelessly disgusting, a level of bathroom humour I wouldn't have guessed for this author, but Coupland's point and point-of-view are never obscured.
Coupland's style and influence is almost inseparable from the culture he's commented on; not necessarily in fiction, really, but in how people of certain generations talk and think (and, yeah, tweet). I was an underage peanut when his first and most publicly defining book, Generation X, came out, and it made Coupland my J.D. Salinger. His stuff was realer, more present to me. Now, after his white-hot streak, but well into a varied career, he is among the few minds working consistently and actively across books and art and TV ; in this kind of impossibly broad context, Worst.Person.Ever. seems less like some definitive statement on garbage TV and bad sex and coke and war and how it all ends, and more like an entry – a fun one – in a personal, pop-cult canon of its own.
Kate Carraway is a Toronto-based writer.