Monday, December 14, 2009

Book 28: Life After God by Douglas Coupland

This is a pocket size book which contains infinity inside a small container.

I currently do not have a copy of this book because I keep giving it away.

I've heard it described as depressing because the characters it contains are all in crisis, almost beyond the reach of connection. But for me the opposite is true. To me it is a lifeline, a description of the strength that is inherent in us even when we are pushed to breaking points. And that breaking points are as much a part of life as triumphs, as ecstasy.

There is something deceptively simple in Coupland's prose, a kind of casual tone that is easy to dismiss as simplistic or lightweight. Compared to the density and verbiage of a Pynchon or a Vonnegut or a Faulkner he seems like a magazine.

But, like I said, that is deceptive. I believe that Coupland's work comes the closest to truly mirroring our modern society. It doesn't achieve this through bells and whistles, chutes and ladders. It does so the old fashioned way. Plot.

'Life After God' is so episodic that one might say there was no plot to speak of. Most people will notice the little drawings that accompany the first person narratives, the tiny size of the book. But when you actually pay attention you get a plot like no other, almost as if you had access to an email inbox after a tragic death.

More a collection of narratives than a collection of short stories, more a novel than a collection of short stories, more a rumination on modern existence than a story about someone ruminating on modern existence, these stories follow ropes to the people at the end of them.

I can't quite say how Coupland does what he does and why it moves me so. I only know that this little book got me through some of the most difficult times of my life. And when I read it if you'd told me things would get worse I wouldn't have believed you.

But they did get worse. Much worse.

And after they got worse I read the book again and it helped me again.

Somehow the pocket size nature of it is comforting, that such despair and desperation can fit inside such a tiny book, that these disasters and tragedies are portable, able to be carried without so much as a backpack. They could sit in your back-pocket as you hitch-hiked right out of your life, down the road into possibly worse circumstances but at least as far as out of the current malaise.

Or they can sit right on your bedside and help you be where you are. Help you see that 'Life After God' might not be so bad after all.

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