By Annie Holub
While you were sleeping
A few hours later, Karen slips into a coma. For seventeen years, she sleeps, while the rest of her friends (seem to) go on with their lives. During the coma, she gives birth to a girl. Her friends float around- one becomes a junkie model, one becomes a vagrant and moves to Las Vegas, one becomes a doctor, and Richard becomes an alcoholic. And then Karen wakes up. And then the world ends.
Douglas Coupland, the author of Girlfriend in a Coma, as well as the legendary Generation X and Microserfs (which is currently being made into a movie), is the writer of our generation. His books are always subtly insightful, making large statements through general conversational dialogues.
But Girlfriend in a Coma is hardly subtle. It's an intricate story, and the story itself is so freaky and fantastic that it is actually unlike Coupland. The book's message can be interpreted similarly to Generation X, execpt Generation X was more, well, realistic. That's the main draw of Coupland's work; the stark, blunt realism. Yet Girlfriend is at times reminiscent of an Afterschool Special on KTTU- about as realistic as As the World Turns.
Which leads me to believe that it's not entirely a coincidence that Karen's middle-aged friends start working in the production industry, designing special effects for TV movies. Coupland has written a book that on the surface seems corny to the point of trash noveldom, but still keeps realism intact to the point of uneasiness. Everybody dies on December 28, 1997 by falling to sleep calmly; no big explosions, no World War III or meteorite. Don't read this book at 2 am when it's raining outside- you'll be afraid to go to sleep.
It seems ludicrous and sci-fi thriller-esque, but somehow Coupland keeps a sense of logic behind it all. In one way it's just another the-world's-going-to-end-because-we're-all-too-fucked-to-save-ourselves story, so it carries messages of redemption: question authority, question reality, etc. etc. It's somewhat trite, but what really makes it a great book it that it's in another way not trite.
The story is almost in-tune as a direct result of all the weird sci-fi phantasma and the slight off-kilter quality of the plot, which is actually one of the most facsinating things about the book. The symbolism and intricate detail involved would make Nathaniel Hawthorne proud. Girlfriend makes you question everything- previous end-of-the-world stories, the state of the modern wasteland, even Coupland's writing style- and that's really the most important message of the book: question.