Douglas Coupland and Shampoo Planet

Having run out of ideas for books to read once, I discovered one of my new favorite authors, Douglas Coupland, when doing a search for similar authors to Chuck Palahniuk using Novelist. An article written by Chuck Wright explained that Coupland's works would appeal to Palahniuk fans because of "their offbeat characters, stylistic inventiveness, and ironic, self-conscious musings on the hollowness of contemporary culture and our prefab zeitgeist." I certainly wasn't disappointed. I started with Hey Nostradamus!, a story about the effects of a school shooting on four characters, the first of which is the pregnant and secretly married 17 year old who's gunned down in the school cafeteria. However, I fell in love with Liz, the overweight, loneliest woman in the world and main character of Eleanor Rigby. In the novel, Coupland tells of how she's reunited with the strange son she gave up for adoption, and this meeting instigates a string of weird events, including reverse sing-alongs and apocalyptic visions of farmers.

My most recent Coupland read, though, was Shampoo Planet, about Tyler, a college freshman who dreams of working for the very corporation Jasmine, his ex-hippie mother, once demonstrated against. The book begins with Jasmine waking up to find the litters D-I-V-O-R-C-E written across her forehead by her spoiled, and now absent, husband. Though he doesn't appreciate her 1960's influenced worldview, Tyler tries to console her in the absence of the rotten stepfather and begins to consider his own position in life. Living in a small, mundane Northwestern town of Lancaster, Washington, obsessed with hair-care products, attending college and dating Anna-Louise, a girl he's known forever, he begins to look for something more. His first step is a trip to Europe where he meets the opportunistic and French girl, Stephanie, who, after Tyler returns home, visits and shakes things up even more by getting between Anna-Louise and Tyler and convincing him to abscond with her to California.

What does Tyler find in California? An escape from quotidian life in Lancaster or disappointment and loneliness? I have to admit that I wasn't as in to this title as much as I was Eleanor Rigby, but I did enjoy it and could relate to the story. In the midst of rebelling against our parents and trying to figure out who we are apart from them, we tend to make mistakes just like Tyler does, and it's these mistakes that help define us or strengthen our character in the end. Tyler may learn slowly, but his situation and story is certainly believable, and I'd recommend it if you're looking for something new to read yourself.

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