Friday, September 05, 2008

Review: The Gum Thief

The Gum Thief seems like a novel Douglas Coupland made up on a whim after observing a couple of employees on a trip to Staples. Hmm, a novel about forty-something loser-ish guy and his twenty-something goth co-worker, that might be interesting. But get this -- instead of actually talking to each other, they communicate through letters filled with hilariously cynical observations about life. It's brilliant!

Funny that it actually kind of works. It's a crazy smoothie of a novel with a bit of everything in it. Mishmashed among the letters are a novel-within-a-novel, letters from Roger (the loser-ish guy)'s ex-wife and Bethany (the twenty-something)'s mom, and even some of Bethany's creative writing exercises: "Imagine you are a piece of toast being buttered..." It's a relief to find that Coupland's writing is still fresh and hilarious after 11 novels, and I ended up really liking these characters that seem so familiar I could swear I've met them somewhere before.

Still, this is no Microserfs, Coupland's '90s masterpiece. The novel occasionally veers from cynicism into genuine bitterness, unlike 'Serfs. Especially depressing is Roger's novel-within-a-novel Glove Pond, which is such a downer that I'd recommend skipping those passages altogether. When you take away the sarcasm, The Gum Thief ends up being a poignant and somewhat bitter reflection on aging, the Gen X generation now all grown up and passing on wisdom to Gen Y.

I wouldn't start with this novel if you've never read Coupland, but for fans of his earlier work, there are enough surprises to make it worthwhile.

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