Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Book 4: Shampoo Planet by Douglas Coupland

I took a broken heart to France and a shattered immune system. The former from a girl, the latter from a deer tick which gave me Lyme's Disease. While I was in France a novel by a man I'd yet to read was published, a novel that disappointed a lot of people, a novel that was written off as 'Fluff' in comparison with his first novel. But had I read it while traipsing around France it would have been akin to falling into a mirror. The magical image that comes to mind is me falling into an inverse world. In reality, shattering glass would have reflected my image and the cuts would have run very deep.

The protagonist of 'Shampoo Planet' by Douglas Coupland has just returned from Europe where he'd cheated on his longtime girlfriend with a sophisticated cutting edge modern-ess. When the foreigner takes him up on his ill-advised invitation to visit him in the States his life is thrown into an uproar.

The manner in which Coupland uses this idea of an 'other' intruding into everyday life is fascinating. Every aspect of your life that you take for granted comes under a different kind of scrutiny. For me this happened because I was the 'Other'. I was foreign even to myself.

I felt as if my personality were being forged in fire, transformed by some great heat, cooled too quickly, prone to shattering. It is almost as if the entire experience were a gauntlet, a self-imposed exile designed to scour every last bit of what I'd been and replace it with whatever greedily came to hand.

I stole pallets from construction sites to build fires. I slept on dirt with my jacket tucked under my neck and woke up with frost on my eyelashes. My cohorts were bundled better than I was so I drank alone and foraged for wood in the field we were squatting in to rebuild the fire. I had no censor. I drank to excess. I smoked French cigarettes for emphasis. I had fun but in looking back it was furlough fun, the kind of fun that gets sailors into trouble, that leaves them stranded in some unwanted port waiting for the next freighter.

This is the kind of fun the characters in 'Shampoo Planet' have. It is an alluring lifestyle and I think readers substitute 'Shallow' for 'Shampoo' a bit too easily because of this fun. These characters are as modern as today's teenagers with their texting and tweeting and technological lives WITHOUT ANY OF THAT INTERCONNECTIVITY.

Think about that for a second.

I was 22 years old when I went to France and I couldn't email anyone. I couldn't Skype. My day to day existence was completely trapped on the continent. This cut me loose from my past in such a dramatic way that I am still feeling the after shocks.

How do you untether a balloon that is tied to each and every one of us?

But the collective psyche was already straining at how ancient things were, how isolated and cut off we were from each other. Imagine what tweets you'd have gotten out of Tehran during the Revolution. My buddy Buzz was born in Iran and moved here as the Shah's regime fell. His father had been a general and saw the writing on the wall. He put together a nest egg and fled to Georgia.

Buzz lost contact with his entire family at ten years of age. Not only that, his entire cultural envelope was burned away.

All I did was go to France. Where I became just another other.

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