Miss Wyoming by Douglas Coupland

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Miss Wyoming by Douglas Coupland

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 3/5
Reviewer: Magda Healey
Reviewed by Magda Healey
Summary: Uneven book, with well constructed story and some great satire; but it lacked breadth and a wider picture as well as trying to make me feel sorry for a narrow, self-centred character whose misery seemed to me very much self-inflicted. Borrow it if you like stories about people whose main life concern is what it means to be "yourself". If you believe in the power of love to change and redeem people you will also get some nice vibes out of it.
Buy? No Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 320 Date: November 2000
Publisher: Flamingo
ISBN: 0006552064

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Douglas Coupland is something of a cult writer and it is possible that I should have started my acquaintanceship with his opus from another book - like Girlfriend in a Coma or Microserfs. Nevertheless it was Miss Wyoming that I read first and I have to say that it left me somehow unimpressed. I can't say I didn't enjoy it - it was a decent read by all means and I liked playing with it. But it wasn't 'my' book and neither was ot good enough to leave me in awe despite not moving any strings in my heart. But I guess I should start justifying my judgements.

The novel has two main protagonists: John Johnson, a 37 year old (but with mental age of an immature 23) successful Hollywood movie producer with a cutting edge apartment (a.k.a. fuck hut), rather exhausting party-coke-hooker lifestyle and a feeling of lack. The other one is Susan Colgate, 28 year old veteran of child-and-teen beauty pageants, a has-been soap star and an ex-rock'n'roll wife. They meet following John's near-death experience in which he had a vision of Susan as somebody who could save his life.

The novel consists of 36 chapters and each of them tells part of the story of Susan's or John's life up until their meeting as well as events after the encounter. These describe mostly John's search for the suddenly vanished Susan. The story doesn't start at the beginning (though it ends at the end) and the part up to their meeting doesn't appear in a chronological order. Such seemingly disjointed structure works very well though and is surprisingly easy to follow. Each new chapter of Susan's and John's life stories adds new insights into the reader's understanding of the characters and these understandings fall just in the right place; so the order of presentation of the life-stories chunks is decidedly non-random. John's and Susan's lives mirror each other in some crucial life events (especially the 'disappearing acts' they both perform) as well as in the general meaning - or rather lack of it. They are both rather lonely, lost and looking for some kind of emotional redemption. The way the novel is constructed is definitely one of its best aspects.

The language and imagery are good as well: some of the similes are strikingly fresh and the way they feed on the every day accessories of media/urban lives is rather clever.

The characters are drawn well. In some ways, the whole novel is an explanation of how John and Susan became the people that they are - or struggling not to be. John is the first one we meet and I have to say I disliked him intensely from the beginning, while having an impression that I was actually meant to either sympathise or empathise. I got more used to him half-way through the book but that was all: got used to him. "A self-centred, me-obsessed, sad git" is a description I seem to be dishing out fairly frequently towards fictional characters, but it is quite astonishing how many books are populated by, erm, self-centred, me-obsessed sad gits.

John is, of course, some kind of a victim: a victim of a self-centred age which puts premium on seeking new sensations and experiences and that sees the creation of own "identity" or "personality" (image?) as the ultimate aim and one of the worthiest pursuits in life. John had felt all the emotions you're ever likely to feel and from here on it's re-runs. And that TOTALLY scared him. Well, I have to say I don't have much sympathy with that feeling. And I don't have much sympathy with the feeling of "tiredness of being me". The whole issue of 'being me' is something that John certainly devotes too much time for his own good.

He seems to live in the world of the intensely personal, in a cage of his own making. He isn't interested in anything beyond the personal. It is as if his whole world consisted just of his own feelings and - from time to time - feelings of other people. He is not an intellectual, political, not even a consciously economic being.

The world John inhabits (this actually applies to the whole world of the novel, not just his perception of it) seems strangely devoid of anything but individual human beings (sometimes couples), with no context, no wider picture of any kind. And for such a person in such a world, loneliness is of course a prime concern, and the only way out of the cage is through love or something like that. In a sense he is a teenager or a very young adult in the body of a middle-aged man.

Susan Colgate was for me much more likeable character and the chapters devoted to her life were fun to read: driven by an ambitious mother through the beauty pageant circuit since the age of four, made-up, dressed-up, cosmetic-surgeried, drilled in answers and movements in order to win. Both the mother and Susan are interesting and well drawn figures, human and sympathetic. And the picture of the beauty-contest circus is wonderful: pathetic, sad, and at moments blood-curdlingly savage vision of a cattle market for young girls. Susan also has some of the "being me/not being me issues" but she also has more of a connection to the world than John which makes her more real, more believable and more likeable than him.

There are several other funky characters in Miss Wyoming, my favourite being nerdy Vanessa the Finder (you have to read the book to find out more about her).

Overall I liked the book, but less than I expected and I didn't consider it particularly special. If I was to compare it to other novels, I read in the previous 12 months, it would be located somewhere between William Gibson's Pattern Recognition; Martin Amis' Money and Ben Elton's High Society. It is decidedly better written than Elton (worse than the other two though), has definitely less obnoxious protagonists than Money and falls very short of the way Gibson managed to put his finger on the pulse of today. To me it lacked breadth and wider picture as well as trying to make me feel sorry for a narrow, self-centred character whose misery seemed to me very much self-inflicted. And I don't believe in the redeeming power of love, so the resolution offered was entirely unconvincing.

On the other hand it was intricately constructed, has a fairly compelling story, well designed secondary characters, interesting imagery and a rather wonderful, scathing description of the American children-and-teen beauty circus. It is also moderately funny (not in a laugh-out-loud way though), being a satire rather than a farce.

Borrow it if you like stories about urban media professionals concerned with what it means to be "yourself". If you believe in the power of love to change and redeem people you will also get some nice vibes out of it.

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Buy Miss Wyoming by Douglas Coupland at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Miss Wyoming by Douglas Coupland at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy Miss Wyoming by Douglas Coupland at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Miss Wyoming by Douglas Coupland at Amazon.com.


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Jill said:

There's always something missing from this guy's books. Irritatingly, it's always something different, too. If he ever manages to put it all together in one volume, I think he'll write a classic. As it is, he's too frustrating for words!

ratshell_13 said:

hey i dont understand this book it is very confusing and goes back and forth and talks about stuff that makes no sence