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Book Review: Mediocre 'Rigby' disappoints

Eleanor Rigby: Douglas Coupland
By Karinya Funsett
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, March 3, 2005
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"Eleanor Rigby" is the latest effort from Canadian novelist and artist Douglas Coupland. Since publishing his debut - and best known - novel, "Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture" in 1991, Coupland has attracted quite a devoted following in the literary world. Until I read this book, I was one of them.

This book was a disappointment. It wasn't awful, but it wasn't great. I've come to expect more from Coupland and his signature style full of acerbic wit, dark humor and loads of irony. While this book has traces of each of those elements, they don't shine like they do in his other novels. Simply put, this book is dangerously close to boring.

Maybe it's supposed to be that way. After all, the premise is designed to accentuate the mundane. The narrator, Liz Dunn, is a boring woman - if the reader can look past Coupland's undeniably masculine voice to believe that Liz is, in fact, a woman. She's overweight, plain looking and underemployed, and the most exciting thing that happens to her in the first 30 pages is a trip to the dentist's office. Actually, in Liz's mind, that isn't true. She talks about seeing the Hale-Bopp comet and how that supposedly changed her forever, but this is just one of the subplots that fails to play out into anything meaningful.

Liz's life becomes moderately interesting after receiving a call from the hospital where a young man with her name listed as his emergency contact has just been admitted. The man, Jeremy, turns out to be Liz's son - the product of her only romantic experience, ever - who she gave up for adoption 20 years ago, and who is now suffering from multiple sclerosis. The scenes that show the interaction between Liz and Jeremy, especially as they rush to make up for lost time, are among the best in the book. Jeremy is the most interesting character in the novel, and the situation is intriguing.

Unfortunately, after that, the book goes back downhill. Coupland throws in some more out-of-nowhere plot twists, along with some too-convenient coincidences, to fill up the next 200 or so pages. Coupland introduces the requisite neurotic family members, an Austrian policeman named Rainer Bayer who found Liz by Googling her, and a handsome dentist named Klaus who harasses women he is "morally attracted" to and is perhaps a rapist. Liz's adventures find her stealing what may or may not be a meteorite, spending time in a German isolation cell, discovering a freak genetic ability to sing backwards and researching farming after her son has apocalyptic visions involving farm families. Randomness can work - and does in other Coupland novels - but here, most of the randomness just made me roll my eyes or groan. Even though most of these random elements are tied together at the end of the novel, "Eleanor Rigby" is ultimately unsatisfying.

Maybe Coupland is tired, and that's why this book is so disappointing. He's published 10 novels in the past 14 years, a handful of nonfiction books, and has continued to work as a visual artist and in theater. I think I might write him a letter: "Dear Mr. Coupland, please take a vacation. I love you, but you're wearing yourself out, and this book is proof. Get some rest, take your time and write something fresh. I'll be waiting."

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