The first and only story of love and looming apocalypse set in the aisles of an office supply superstore.
In Douglas Coupland’s ingenious new novel—sort of a Clerks meets Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf—we meet Roger, a divorced, middle-aged “aisles associate” at Staples, condemned to restocking reams of 20-lb. bond paper for the rest of his life. And Roger’s co-worker Bethany, in her early twenties and at the end of her Goth phase, who is looking at fifty more years of sorting the red pens from the blue in aisle 6. One day, Bethany discovers Roger’s notebook in the staff room. When she opens it up, she discovers that this old guy she’s never considered as quite human is writing mock diary entries pretending to be her: and, spookily, he is getting her right.
These two retail workers then strike up an extraordinary epistolary relationship. Watch as their lives unfold alongside Roger’s work-in-progress, the oddly titled Glove Pond, a Cheever-era novella gone horribly, horribly wrong. Through a complex layering of narratives, The Gum Thief reveals the comedy, loneliness, and strange comforts of contemporary life. Coupland electrifies us on every page of this witty, wise, and unforgettable novel. Love, death and eternal friendship can all transpire where we least expect them …and even after tragedy seems to have wiped your human slate clean, stories can slowly rebuild you.
Douglas Coupland is Canadian, born on a Canadian Air Force base near Baden-Baden, Germany, on December 30, 1961. In 1965 his family moved to Vancouver, Canada, where he continues to live and work. Coupland has studied art and design in Vancouver, Canada, Milan, Italy and Sapporo, Japan. His first novel, Generation X, was published in March of 1991. Since then he has published nine novels and several non-fiction books in 35 languages and most countries on earth. He has written and performed for the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford, England, and in 2001 resumed his practice as a visual artist, with exhibitions in spaces in North America, Europe and Asia. 2006 marks the premiere of the feature film Everything's Gone Green, his first story written specifically for the screen and not adapted from any previous work. A TV series (13 one-hour episodes) based on his novel, jPod premieres on the CBC in January, 2008.
Post-it notes. Reams of A4 paper. Drawing pins. Fluorescent highlighters. Clipboards. Air Duster. Ink & toner cartridges. Just a few of the things that might have crossed my mind when thinking of a novel centered on the employess of a Staples office supply store. But Christopher Nolan's Inception? It's becuase of that whole dream within a dream within a dream thing going on. Only here it's a novel within a novel within a novel. Well, sort of.
Fortysomething Roger, somewhat of a lost soul, who sees his co-workers as either the no hopers—the serial twelve steppers and terminally clueless—or kids just making a pit stop before moving on to something real, is writing a novel called Glove Pond, and Coupland has us read it; or at least parts from it. In Glove Pond there is a character called Steve, who happens to be a writer with five novels under his belt. Steve is working on a new novel about a guy called Norm, who is presumably based on Roger. Also, in Glove Pond, are the characters of Bethany and Kyle, who may or may not be based on Roger's own Staples co-workers Bethany and Kyle. It's Glove Pond that reads more like your traditional novel as everything else that happens outside in the real world is made up of real and fake diary writings and letters mostly between Roger, the younger gothy looking Bethany, Bethany's overprotect mum, Deedee, and Roger's ex wife, Joan. If it all sounds rather complex, it actually isn't. Basically, Coupland largely switches back and forth between the letters and Glove Pond. And we know exactly where we are all of the time thanks to breaks in narrative and simple chapter titles. So like 'Glove Pond', or whoever happens to be writing the next letter—I can think of certain other experimental writers that would abandon this idea and simply have us guessing who is writing what and where the hell we are.
The style of The Gum Thief is both infuriating and neatly done; even addictive, as everytime we switch to Glove Pond I couldn't wait to just get back to Roger and Bethany's letters which I really warmed to. Especially when Bethany eventually leaves Staples and travels to Europe—she would return to Staples later on only to learn Roger got fired. And the longer things went on, the more I wanted to read of them. Sometimes, friendships can be struck up in the most unexpected of circumstances. And that's the case here. I'm not really sure what purpose reading parts of Glove Pond served other than just trying to be clever.
Coupland for me very much feels like he is still stuck in the 90s—I'm convinced he simply cannot shake off his seminal 1991 hit Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture—as The Gum Thief (2007) has a grungy slacker Clerks-esque vibe to it. Like it was written by a much younger writer. Not necessary a bad thing as the 90s; especially early to mid 90s, was for me a great time to be in. Both Roger and Bethany were easy to relate to, from the little everyday experiences, the ups and the downs, to the deeper more poignan things like losing a loved one, and mental health. Like they were both trying to patch up and mend a piece of each other's hearts a little at a time.
This was my sixth Coupland book—five novels, one non-fiction, and I guess it would sit somewhere in the middle.
When are Otis & Co. going to implement half stars? Because I'd like to give this book four and a half stars.
I loved this book. It's not often that a book makes me laugh out loud, and this book consistently made me laugh out loud. Peals of laughter. Giggles. Cackles, even. I’m not exaggerating.
It’s also very sad, sweet, and affecting all at the same time. I love books wherein the characters ruminate. I get most of my own ruminating done in the shower, but these characters do it on paper in a series of letters to one another.
Told in a series of journal entries, it is the story of an unlikely friendship between Roger and Bethany, two coworkers at a Staples office supply store. They differ in age and lifestyle, but they end up forming a strong bond after Bethany finds Roger’s diary in the break room and sees that he has written an entry from her point of view. She begins to write to Roger in the diary, and their relationship continues in that manner for the rest of the book. Eventually, Bethany’s mother, DeeDee, starts writing letters to Roger, and hers are some of the best chapters in the book.
While all of this is going on, Roger is writing a novel that is reminiscent of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. We are treated, because it is a treat to read about Steve and Gloria, to chapters of Roger’s novel throughout The Gum Thief. Naturally, the reader, as well as Bethany and DeeDee, become fascinated by this novel within a novel.
Sometimes when I read a book, I like to put my favorite quotes in my review. With this book, I found so many gems that it would be difficult to document all of them here. I can’t resist adding just a few, though.
Roger It’d be nice if we had a course in school called Real Life. Forget don’t-drink-and-drive videos and plastic models of the uterus. Imagine a class where they sit you down and spell everything out, deploying all of that information delivered to us by our ever-growing army of wise, surviving ninetysomethings… …Falling out of love happens as quickly as falling in. …Good-looking people with strong, fluoridated teeth get things handed to them on platters. …Animals spend time with you only if you feed them. …People armed with shopping carts who know what they want and where they’re going will always cream clueless people standing in the middle of aisles holding vague shopping lists. …Time speeds up in a terrifying manner in your midthirties. My Theory of the Day is that the moment your brain locks into its permanent age, whoosh, it flips a time switch and your life zooms forward like a Japanese bullet train. Or the Road Runner. Or a 747. The point being that your soul is left behind in a cloud of dust.
Bethany There’s such a difference between the world I grew up expecting and the one I got, but everyone my age has probably felt the same since the dawn of man. I didn’t expect a world full of jetliners impregnating office towers, or viruses jumping species, or shit, according to Yahoo!, pigs that now glow in the dark. The modern world is devoted to vanishing species, vanishing weather and vanishing capacity for wonder. The few animals that remain here with us – when they look at me, or when I hear them cheep or bleat or meow – they’re not animals anymore, they’re the voices of the dead trying to warn us of what’s coming. According to government statistics, I’m supposed to leave the world in 2062, but I can’t even see 2032 in my head.
And, finally, a little bit of Glove Pond.
Gloria: “Balans chairs? Those are the chairs with no backs and all the pressure is on your knee-“ Steve: “Yes, yes.” Gloria: “I saw a PBS documentary on them. They’ll soon be replacing every chair on earth.” Steve: “Wretched things. God, I hate the present.”
This is one of the more aggravatingly bad books that I've read in some time.
Here's reasons why this book is of poor quality.
1. Completely unlikable characters.
The book centers around a forty-year-old losery guy and a twenty-four year old shrill goth girl. Those are red flags, I know, but it's not their external appearances that make these characters unlikable but rather their voice, their way of telling their respective stories. First off, both Roger and Bethany come across very one-sided. Roger is miserable and drinks. Bethany is bored. That's it. But don’t let these surface differences fool you! In reality, every character thinks the same way: they think like Douglass Coupland. They speak of the metaphysical and philosophical in the same fashion. You could take 80% of the ideas that these characters spout off, change what mouth of what character it’s coming out of and the book would be the same. Now, I know that’s his style and usually I forgive him for that (you could say the same thing about Microserfs and Generation X, two books I think are excellent) but I paid $30 for this book and I’m bitter.
If that isn’t bad enough, the other part of the book centers around a story within the story, a novel Roger is writing titled Glove Pond. The novel, from what I can tell, is supposed to be awful. But it’s hard to say because the characters in The Gum Thief all love it so much you start to think maybe Roger is supposed to be some sort of gifted writer. But he isn’t. Glove Pond sucks. Everyone in Glove Pond is annoying. That’s the experience of reading this book; instead of suffering through one terrible story, you suffer through two.
2. Distractingly out-of-touch.
There’s this part where a character steals some gum and the security tape of the incident is set to music. The character doesn’t get caught or whatever on the video. This video is mentioned to have become a massive hit on YouTube. Call me a skeptic, but I don’t think he knows what kind of videos become hits on YouTube. It’s like he wanted to mention viral videos because it will make him look hip.
So, okay, who cares? The problem lies in the fact that all of these things (well, most of them) come in the form of asides and as such are mostly unnecessary. He didn’t need to mention YouTube, but he did. And nothing good came for it.
Then there are the big generational misconception flaws, maybe the most important one is the idea of a twenty-four year old woman goth. She’s so old to be doing this and as it’s not really fully explained it feels like Coupland doesn’t know how modern day subcultures work. It seemed weird and off.
3. It’s dumb!
Life always kills you in the end, but first it prevents you from getting what you want. I’m so tired of never getting what I want. Or of getting it with a monkey paw curse attached. All those Hollywood people are always saying to be careful what you wish for, yeah, but at least they first had a wish come true.
Hang on, I’m venting here.
One more breath.”
Prepare for reading a lot of that sort of stuff, from every character. Everyone’s like, smokin’ cigarettes and like, drinking piss vodka and stuff and like, shit’s fucked up man.
The whole book has this Hi-I’m-Douglass-Coupland-and-I-needed-some-money-to-build-a-deck feeling to it. I normally don’t diss on a book this badly and I feel jerkish about it (I've never written a novel, terrible or otherwise). I’ll say there’s a part where a writing teacher makes the class write about the experience of a bread being buttered from the bread’s point of view and I think anyone who has had a creative writing class will find this mildy amusing. Additionally, I smiled on four jokes that he put in there too somewhere. But I’ll also say this is the second worst book I’ve read in two years.
I have more to say but goodreads' limit is 4000 characters.
If there ever was a time to write a review for The Gum Thief, it’s in the middle of the night when your back hurts and the walls close in on you and your mind won’t stop rushing until you imagine a Buddhist monk opening a little door in your head, peeking in, and saying, “No enlightenment for this one! His mind won’t slow down! In fact let me move away from him as fast as possible.”
This novel revolves around a loser everyman who, after a series of family tragedies and dumbass decisions, finds himself working at an office superstore amongst sullen, ambitionless teenagers and uncompromising fluorescent lights. He and a goth girl slightly too old for the goth thing begin a curious correspondence, via notebook, in which they chronicle their reactions to the store, their pasts, and the terrifying possibility that 1) their lives may never transcend the superstore’s aisles and/or 2) even if their lives did transcend the superstore’s aisles, their experience with the fragility of the tolerable elements of existence is so pervasive they might be damaged permanently. These people are stuck and smart enough to realize the unstuck people are maybe just not perceptive enough to realize they’re only a couple steps away from stuck themselves. So why get up in the morning?
Well, there’s Glove Pond, the man’s novel that blossoms from the notebook exchange. And there’s a trip to Europe for the girl that goes awry but transforms the girl in unexpected ways. And there are both a lack of easy answers and a surprising testament to the power of human beings to carry each other through the deadening American retail landscape.
You know those people who say things like, “You know, you could get hurt, and your insurance could run out, and you could lose your job, and your whole life could fall apart.” They’re right. But that doesn’t mean you hide under the covers (and I love hiding the covers, seriously) for the rest of your lives, because that’s not living, either. The Gum Thief is essentially about whether or not you should hide under the covers or leave the house every day.
The Gum Thief transcends hipster chatter and coheres in a manner that might escape quick or careless reading. This is a smart, tough novel that might look light and empty upon first glance, just like that register drone where you buy your pens might not look like she actually has a life beyond distributing change and helping you find report covers. I recommend it but maybe not combined with a Joy Division listening session or anything too harrowing. I’m going to continue with his catalog this summer.
Ingenious. Clever. Heartwarming. I liked it. I liked it a lawt. I don't want to waste your time or the tiny bit of brain power I have going right now with a plot synopsis, and anyway this book has been reviewed on GR a bunch (and there are some good ones out there)so you can read more about what it's about elsewhere. But I do wanna say that, for me, the book's got a strong Seinfeldy/Larry David vibe. There's tons of general observations about everyday nothingness that evolve into epiphanies about the world we live in and/or philosophical rants. And most of the book is set in an office superstore which is a little like, "who the fuck cares what goes on in a Staples?" which reminded me of the Seinfeld where Jerry and George pitch their show to NBC as being "about nothing." At one point I thought "Hmm. That's sort of derivative, have to knock it down a star." Then I tried reading Bethany (one of the main characters) as Elaine Bennis, but it didn't work. So I realized that while it was reminiscent, it was still original, new...fresh! I found the characters relatable, likable, and real. Besides, nothing's born in a vacuum.
Aside from all of that, the book's actually pretty dark. One of the things Coupland does so well in _The Gum Thief_ is transition from the everyday setting of bad lighting, shithead customers and gossipy teens to heavier issues like suicide, the loss of a child, drug abuse, illness, insanity, and heartbreak without even blinking. It's all so unbelievably believable. And, oddly, not a bummer at all.
I don't know. I'm not sure what else to say about it. There's so much going on. You just have to read it for yourself. I read a negative review by a goodreader that suggested all the characters had the same voice: Coupland's. I didn't get that AT ALL. I mean, I think to have characters that work together, or are friends with each other, or are related to each other each have a voice or perspective so different from the other's would be not only off-putting, but unrealistic. I am a lot like the people I hang around for a reason: I like people who share a similar outlook on life and get my sense of humor. Other than that the reviewer complained the main character was too old to be goth. She's obviously never been to gothsinhotweather.com, or a Marilyn Manson concert.
This unassuming book is a tour-de-force. Filled with stories-within-stories and other postmodern devices that should be annoying, the novel is eminently readable and surprising in its embrace of humanity and cynicism all at once.
Without mythologizing the quotidian, i.e. making our scummy human life seem romantic, and without dosing the whole enterprise with irony, Coupland manages to make something at once depressing and redeeming. For the first time in ages, I actually stopped reading the book 10 pages before the end just because I wanted to savor it.
We have: great lead characters, working depressingly but not gratuitiously in a Staples. Great secondary characters, such as Rant Man. Great little observations, such as: why, when the Italians use red, green, and white, it looks deliciously Italian, and when Americans do it, it just looks like Christmas? We have lath-and-plaster prose finished with amazing sentences like this: "She stepped out into what had become a night so cold it made the stars vibrate." We have a slice of bread being buttered, from the bread's point of view.
We have characters who never actually interact with each other--because the novel consists of letters between them. We have a story within a story: GLOVE POND, which removes the dysfunction and misery of all the characters even further. We have, ultimately, an admission that most real people are more interesting than characters in novels, which is why Coupland keeps zooming back from the action--so in the end, the characters are, paradoxically, more real and even in their despair, more hopeful.
It's as if Raymond Carver finally put down that bottle of scotch and tried to do something harder--and succeeded. As if Barack Obama said "yes we can!" and 250 million people believed him. As if the self-important deconstructionist age ended and people started to put some things together again, letter by letter. Thanks, Douglas Coupland, for a terrific book.
(Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography [cclapcenter.com]. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted here illegally.)
Like many writers of critical reviews, I too sometimes think about the idea of one day penning an entire book-long series of essays about a particular artist -- and of all the artists in history that now exist, the one I'm perhaps most qualified at this point to write an entire critical book about would be Canadian author Douglas Coupland; I've read eight of his eleven novels now, the majority of them multiple times, along with a handful of his nonfiction books, all the short pieces he's ever published, and several hundred interviews with him that have been conducted over the last 17 years, not to mention a memorable experience actually meeting him in the year 2000. (In a nutshell, while at a Chicago reading he became obsessed with the fact that I'm deaf in one ear, and actually stopped his reading in the middle of it to ask me all these strange random questions about it.) And in this I don't think I'm too terribly different than a large group of other people my age; after all, it was Coupland who wrote 1991's Generation X, the book that literally coined the term for the generation (my generation), the first book to teach all of us that it was okay to dream of a different world than the trippy hairy mess our aging hippie bosses had created, that it is in fact a generational duty. I mean, sure, that single book eventually led us to an entire decade of unnecessary body scarification, Kevin Smith films, and drag queens hosting afternoon talk shows, but that's not Coupland's fault for writing the novel that started it all. Or is it? See, that's the kind of essay I'd write, if I ever wrote a book of essays about Coupland; and it'd be a cool book, too, I'm telling you!
That's why I was looking forward to reading through his latest, 2007's medium-sized and easily digestible The Gum Thief; because the three novels of Coupland's that I haven't gotten to yet read, frankly, are the last three he's published (2003's Hey Nostradamus!, 2004's Eleanor Rigby and 2006's JPod), not for any particular aesthetic reason but merely because I've been permanently broke throughout the 2000s, so I've been happily anticipating getting caught up with his ouevre ever since opening CCLaP a little less than a year ago. And indeed, The Gum Thief finds Coupland in fine if not terribly exciting form, just as is the case with the majority of his books; it'll take most people just a few days to get through it, and it provides exactly a few days worth of entertainment, a good matchup even while not exactly soaring to the heights of his absolute best work (so in other words, this is no Microserfs). On the Coupland Scale of Weirdness, this definitely tips in on the dark, sad and bitter side; more Life After God than Shampoo Planet, more an examination of the endless failures of life than of its few successes.
Because that's really the first thing to understand about Coupland, if you want a chance of deeply getting and enjoying his work; that he lives in this sorta little literary bubble of his own, where it's difficult to compare his plots and style and even way of working to any other writer except himself, and his books against any other books but his own. Coupland's world is a semi-surreal place but not a fully surreal one, a place where things just weird enough are always happening, events very much informed by popular culture and that are conveyed to us through the smooth, minimalist, elegant personal style that Coupland's past as an ad-agency copywriter has given him. It is not unusual within a Coupland story for time to stop, for apocalyptic events to take place, without any of these things being the main point of the story itself; Coupland's main point is always to examine the humanity inherent in each situation, even if it's a sometimes cold and irony-laced humanity that often has problems communicating with each other, and even if told in a much more clever and meta way than most character dramas are.
This is certainly the case with The Gum Thief; it is primarily the story of Roger, a middle-aged alcoholic who has just gone through a series of personal crises (divorce, death of a child, loss of a job), which now find him living in a basement studio apartment in a large anonymous city, sneaking vodka into his new day job as a clerk at office-supply store Staples just in order to make it through each soul-crushing day. Yeah, welcome to Coupland's world, chump! Because that's the thing that's often forgotten about his work, especially by his critics, or not even mentioned in the first place; that when Coupland is in a bad mood, he can be one of the most pathos-infused writers of our generation, painting portraits of human hopelessness and moral weakness that on the bleak scale fall just short of Russian epics about suicidal madmen in winter. The Gum Thief isn't a pleasant book, it isn't a pleasant book at all; it's a relentlessly grim and dour book, in fact, one that wallows in all the filth and garbage of the usual world, hoping merely that the fates of the various losers we meet along the way are somehow just a little bit better by the end, since "good" is too optimistic a fate to hope for.
Because that's the other thing; as the story continues, of course, Roger ends up gathering a host of deeply flawed characters around him as well, all because of a notebook he accidentally leaves in the store's breakroom one day, in which he is writing new fictional character sketches based on his real co-workers and half-heartedly contemplating taking up the challenge again of becoming a published author. It's because of this notebook and these fictional character studies that he then comes to the attention of co-worker Bethany, an overweight goth girl in her early twenties who unfortunately had a plethora of friends and relatives accidentally die around her during childhood. This, then, has left Bethany unsure of herself, sarcastic and bitter about life, unable to trust or love the people around her; so in other words, a perfect match and foil for Roger, someone who starts leaving snotty rambling letters in his notebook that admonish him to never acknowledge them out loud to her while actually on the clock at the store.
This then leads us to the main crux of the novel, which as usual with Coupland is a bit difficult to describe but enjoyable nonetheless. For example, partly this is about the growing complex relationship between Roger and Bethany, the way that their unspoken correspondence very slowly helps push each other to a point of awareness and healing they weren't at before. But also this is about the relationship between Roger and Bethany's mother DeeDee, yet another emotionally-scarred loser who it turns out had actually gone out with Roger on an dual-alcoholic date in the past, and who starts adding her own letters to the correspondence after finding out that Bethany and Roger have started conversing. But then, this is also the story of the new novel that Roger has been inspired by Bethany and DeeDee to sit down and finally write, a dreadful "comedy" called Glove Pond that is a transparent ripoff of Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virgina Woolf?; and it's not just the story of the novel itself (large chunks of which are interspersed among the letters), but also how the people around him react to the novel, with to us it being pretty obvious that the novel is awful but with Bethany and DeeDee impressed because of neither being familiar with the Albee original. And because of all this literary trickery, of course, the book ends up becoming something else as well -- a meta story, that is, a story about stories about stories about stories, with there in actuality being hardly any "real" dialogue in The Gum Thief at all, but rather an entire manuscript's worth of letters and emails and office memos and diary entries and novel excerpts and the like.
Now to be fair, there is also a fair dose here of all the things Coupland's critics complain about as well: over-reliance on pop-culture references, for one good example, a glib irony-worshipping writing style that is sure to turn a lot of people off right from the start. And Lord, don't even think about turning to a Coupland novel and expecting some sort of grand message, but rather be ready for a small story about small people that ultimately only says small and quiet things; this is why Generation X became as cultishly huge as it did, after all, is because Coupland never set out to write a book about an entire generation in the first place, but has admitted many times in interviews that he expected no one besides his own circle of friends to understand the point of the book at all. This is the sort of attitude you need to have about Coupland going into his novels, in order to truly appreciate them in a deep way; you need to see them as simple stories about specific people, but who by extension are then telling big stories about all of us in an untold way. And you need to go with Coupland down that road to get there, need to keep thinking about his ideas after the book itself is done; when you do this, he becomes much more than a MTV-friendly pop-culture guru, but actually a sophisticated chronicler of the human condition. That's why I keep reading Coupland and keep enjoying Coupland; it's why I ultimately recommend The Gum Thief as well, even though it will clearly never be thought of as one of Coupland's best.
An interesting enough-to-keep-me-reading work of fiction from an author that comes highly recommended. This is the second book by this author I have read and I am already seeing pretty obvious trends. The most obvious trend is that, whatever the circumstances and whoever the characters, the main business of the novel is the internal landscapes and ruminations of the individuals.
Billed by Bloomsbury on the back cover as "...wise, witty an unforgettable.." I personally disagree with all those descriptions. I saw no wisdom, moments of insightfullness, perhaps, but they were small and fleeting. To me it was less witty than formulaic, and inclined to try too hard for it to be anything but pretentious. Unforgettable... well time will tell but I suspect that I will have thoroughly forgotten it in a few months because the ending, which I did not like, nullified all the thought I had been putting into it while I read it.
This novel has three sections, and unlike many novels they are not sequential, they are interwoven. One section is Roger, a middle aged man working at a officeworks type superstore (which may actually exist in the USA or be fictionary, I don't know and it doesn't much matter). The second section is Bethany, a young woman, of socially outcast-ish goth-ish nature, who also works at the store. Neither of them much like the store or each other. At some stage these two individuals start corresponding with each other, which is the bulk of the novel. The third part of the novel is 'Glove Pond' a novel that Roger is allegedly writing that he apparently shares with Bethany who loves it. A couple of sections written by Roger's ex-wife and Bethany's mother are barely ripples in the trend.
Now. I didn't not enjoy this book as a whole, I certainly finished it, I didn't hate it... I found Roger and Bethany intriguing and quite liked reading their sections which definitely contained the insightful moments regarding society, work, the expectations of ourselves and society which make life a mosaic. This is where the social commentary I was expecting was located.
The third section though: I hated 'Glove Pond', more than I can say. Poorly written (intentionally so, I am told, but intentional bad writing is still bad) it was agony to read. I think it is meant of be comical? Or a social commentary of some kind...? I don't know what or how, it was just painful, painful, painful. And you couldn't skip it, because it was a plot element, you suspected. I hear some people found it funny. Huh, having my fingernails pulled out, I would probably find funnier. If you can imagine cleaning out an aged relatives cupboards and finding the manuscript they wrote in the seventies when they thought they could be an author? that is Glove Pond. Ouch.
Aside: Glove pond reminded me of 'Face Glove' me and my friends nickname for MMA. That was a small amusement at least.
So, Roger, according to the text is meant to have not finished school, the main male character in the GolvePond novel is Steve who is meant to be a university English professor. Neither character is believable as either designation, they melt into each other in a way that, if it is intentional is poorly executed.
The reference on page 230+ to a Stephen King movie where people vanish from a plane was in the only other book by this author I ever read, in as much detail. It would be funny in a university drunken party sort of way, but does not bear reading a second time. Ditto, the plastic soldiers on page 257. Cut and paste on this scale is a poor tactic when you expect people to pay for a book.
The ending gave me no amusement nor satisfaction, I will not spoiler it for anyone who might read it but if you already have ...
Aside from the spoilers, there were a few other irritations; the voices of the characters were poorly defined and interchangeable. I could not tell them apart without reading the title page and thank goodness they never interacted because I would have been lost. Early in the novel, Roger apparently mimics Bethany.... it is on the back cover as the reason they start interacting,but for the life of me I can't figure out when, the characters are just that undefined. Roger is inconsistent as a character in a way that cannot be explained by growing older ect... No, the ending is no excuse for this much fluffiness from an experienced, professional author.
Steve is writing GlovePond, which is appalling. Two of the characters in GlovePond are also writing things (slightly less appalling, honestly could NOT have been worse), so at times we are reading a fiction written by fictionary characters invented by the fictionary characters Coupland created. This could have been cool, more often it was mildly irritating and a good idea that was not quite pulled off.
Bethany treats us to some vignettes of when she did a writing course and they had to describe bread being buttered... ooookay... sure. So, again we have a fiction within a fiction within a fiction and I groaned every time one came up. Is this funny to someone who did a writing course? I never did, perhaps I am not the target audience here.
So Three stars, because I finished it, thought about it while I was reading it and because the author does actually seem to know what he is doing, though it was not something I loved particularly.
Every time I finish a Coupland novel I think to myself "Amy, you have to make something of your life or you will die unhappy." I enjoyed this book but after I read the last page I had to lay down and think the same sad thing I always think. Thanks for spurring me on, Douglas Coupland, you miserable bastard.
I love, and I mean LOVE, Douglas Coupland. There will always be a special place for him in my heart because he brought me clarity and a new life belief system in the form of Generation X. But sometimes he really pisses me off. This is one of those times. I read this book last week and have forgotten it already. This is not a good sign. Plus, as my good friend Katie pointed out, he likes to test me. There are two things I hate this this world; racism and chewed up bubble gum. So why why why would Douglas put a picture of chewed up bubble gum (bright pink, shiny, realistic looking, and I SWEAR, sticky, bubble gum) on the front and back of his new book? He's just mean. Anyway, the idea was good, the ending was interesting and I got sucked in somewhere in the middle. Douglas's true quirky voice comes out at some point, but if you've never read one of his books before, don't start with this one. And if you have read one of his books before, reread it. It's better. (I suggest Gen X, Microserfs or Miss Wyoming.)
This is the story of Steve and Bethany, pen pals and coworkers at Staples. Even though they work togehter, they prefer to write letters to each other rather than talk face to face, and this letter-writing is the whole premise of the novel. Some of the letters are written by side characters, like Bethany's mother Dee Dee. The book also contains a couple of Bethany's writing exercises from a creative writing class, and excerpts from Steve's unpublished novel "Glove Pond". These were fun to read and gave the book some much needed variation. All in all I enjoyed the letter format, and the topic of writing and becoming an author, which is discussed both by Steve and Bethany, and by the characters of "Glove Pond".
As usual with Coupland, there's a prevalent feeling of nothingness and pointlessness encapsulating the character's lives, and both have bouts of depression throughout the novel. Steve and Bethany often discuss the hopelessness and lack of meaning that comes with working at shitty jobs in a polluted, consumerist world. It's quite dark, but interspersed with funny moments, witch was more or less what I expected when I bought it.
Some passages I liked very much, they where beautifully written and poignant, and often based on everyday observations elevated to something more universal or philosophical - and usually very pessimistic.
But the book falls short of being really good. There's just not enough substance there. Maybe that's the point, describing the nothingness of modern, urban life, but still. I much prefer Generation X to this one.
From hilarious to hilariously tragic to just plain tragic, The Gum Thief is a remarkable book about the disasters known as human beings. Witty, raw, and intense, it is a coming of age novel for the young, the middle-aged, and the hopeless. A wonderful social commentary with so much to say that I’m sure everyone out there will be able to walk away from this book having learned something.
Roger teaches us that not every average Joe is an average Joe –they’re people too, with tragedies and mistakes behind them and dreams in front of them. Bethany reminds us of what it was like to balance on that precarious ledge between adolescence and adulthood, and how scary it was to look so far ahead at the future. Glove Pond showed us that even some of the most accomplished individuals are disasters too.
Overall, a really fantastic read. This is just one of my favourite messages that Coupland imparts: “…maybe memories are like karaoke –where you realize up on the stage, with all those lyrics scrawling across the screen’s bottom, and with everybody clapping at you, that you didn’t know even half the lyrics to your all-time favourite song. Only afterwards, when someone else is up on stage humiliating themselves amid the clapping and laughing, do you realize that what you liked most about your favourite song was precisely your ignorance of its full meaning –and you read more into it than maybe existed in the first place. I think it’s better to not know the lyrics to your life.” (85)
This book is comprised of letters between employees at a Staples; Roger, the older guy & Bethany the goth teenager. They write to each other in a notebook that also includes Roger's attempts at a first novel, a book called Glove Pond. Said Glove Pond is pretty spectacular & I can open almost any page in this entire book at random & hit some wonderful, lovely writing like, "I want it to look like I taste like almond paste," (which, coincidentally, was exactly what I wanted when I was a goth teenager), but I still found myself struggling to finish. Copeland doesn't quite do it for me the way he used to.
Easily my most enjoyable Coupland book... It's like expecting a cheap cider and getting a bottle of good Champagne. Where do I start first a wonderful supportive relationship between an middle age alcoholic man and a young female Goth! Add Staples stationery store, debunking a Stephen king Novel, essays on toast and a wonderful story within a story and you get some pure Coupland gold. My recommendation, READ IT GODDAMNIT!
I discovered this book on my shelf recently and had no recollection of having read it. Could it be that I purchased it to complete my Coupland collection but never got around to actually reading the thing? However, now that I've read it, I'm still not 100% sure whether or not I've read it before - and that's the main problem with the book. It reads almost like a parody of a Coupland novel, with all of the real-world references artfully scattered throughout the dialogue and frequent references to the end of the world, yet it's nowhere near as satisfying a read as his earlier books like Microserfs or Girlfriend in a Coma.
Fall TV's big trend seems to involve people with pathetic, losery jobs at soulless chain stores (Chuck, which is so far getting a tentative thumbs up from me, and Reaper, which I'm giving a big thumbs down). Coupland, as usual, is ahead (or at least on top) of the trend, with his latest novel being set at Staples, and following two employees—the older, divorced Roger and young goth Bethany—as they write letters to each other, following Bethany's discovery of Roger's diary. This is interspersed with excerpts from Roger's work-in-progress novel, Glove Pond, which teeters amusingly on the edge between ridiculous and brilliant.
I really enjoyed reading this. Coupland is, as always, amazingly good at looking into the minds of average, if somewhat quirky, people. He gives humanity to everyone; there are generally no villains in a Coupland novel, just various degrees of flawed people. I loved the relationship between Roger and Bethany and really enjoyed the weird, weird world of Glove Pond. I did think, however, that the narrative lags a bit once Bethany goes to England, and the book lacks the sense of catharsis at the end that many of Coupland's novels, even his overall weaker ones, have. Still, this is up there with my favorites of his, and continues to give me hope that he will one day produce something that's not just Really Good, but Transcendent.
I became a fan of Douglas Coupland's writing after I checked out Generation X from the library when I was in high school. I've read a number of his books and his one, The Gum Thief is one of my favorites, along with Generation X and Life After God. Most Coupland novels are full of unrealistic plot twists that somehow bind the characters. This book is more straightforward and realistic in its storyline. The novel is told through letters and writing samples that the characters share. And while it is touted on its sleeve as "The first and only story of love and looming apocalypse set in the aisles of an office supply superstore," that doesn't quite adequately describe the feel of this novel. It is set in a Staples, but it is not about the looming apocalypse. The characters are struggling to dig through the doldrums of everyday life. They more concerned with being stuck in their current existence than overbearingly fearful of some impending doom. The love stories that seem to intertwine through the book are not the anchor of the characters' passions. Instead, between the book within the book and the exposes of correspondence, the main love for the characters is the cathartic act of writing. Overall, this novel reads as Coupland's most realistic novel in a long time.
estupendo libro, aunque he de decir que conmigo Coupland lo tiene fácil porque me gusta casi siempre. Algunos dicen que siempre escribe de lo mismo, y que a veces parece un stand-up comedian, y yo no solo lo confirmo sino que confieso que me encanta. Me río y emociono en un mismo párrafo y esa lucha entre estar deprimido y superfelizdelamuerte que viven todos sus personajes la encuentro de lo más real.
4.5 stars. I loved the humanness in this book - broken people trying to make sense of their broken lives. It helps immensely if you are familiar with Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf (I’ve watched the movie many times)to appreciate the story within the story of Glove Pond.
La parola più corretta per definire questo libro e’ BUFFET…. E’ un buffet di emozioni, di esperienze di vita, di amicizia, di dolore, tanto che lo stesso autore definisce la vita, la vita dei protagonisti, ma non solo, UN RICCO BUFFET DI ESPERIENZA… Come dargli torto. Il libro di Coupland è particolare, ogni persona che lo leggerà ne trarrà emozioni diverse, in base all’età, alle proprie esperienze di vita, ai propri successi e insuccessi, insomma ce n’è per tutti i gusti e colori…un po’ come la copertina, splendida, che apre questo STRANO LIBRO. Trovo l’immagine di copertina veramente azzeccata e si addice perfettamente alle sfumate di emozioni che lascia questo romanzo. Immaginiamo di far scendere dal distributore di caramelle una di queste gomme da masticare tutte colorate…gialle, rosa, rosse , verdi, blu….in base a chi siamo, giovani, bambini, adulti anziani, ne traiamo il gusto ..ad ognuno di noi lascerà qualcosa di diverso che si tratti di colore o di sapore….proprio come questo libro. E’ un romanzo- diario che tocca molte tematiche attuali, l’alcolismo, il divorzio, la paura di diventare adulti, i vari fallimenti, il non piacersi, la mancata comunicazione…. Ci si può ritrovare in Roger, quarantenne divorziato che a causa di insuccessi e occasioni sfumate si ritrova solo, a fare il commesso per una catena di forniture per ufficio,con un sogno nel cassetto finire il suo romanzo iniziato quando era giovane, LO STAGNO NEL GUANTO. Qualcosa di costante nella sua vita c’è, l’alcol, il suo cane Wajne e un diario dove scrive e annota tutte le sue frustrazioni, paure e malumori. Oppure di contro, si ci può ritrovare in Bethany, ragazza fragile, giovane, piena di paure che vede la morte sempre dietro di se. Collega di Roger, arrabbiata, insicura, come spesso le giovani donne sono. Interessante è anche l’aspetto emotivo che Coupland descrive in questo libro, della mamma di Bethany, DD, anche lei con ben tre divorzi alle spalle, una frana in quanto scegliere uomini e una forte preoccupazione per quella sua giovane figlia. Cerca di starle vicino pur, non sempre, condividendo le scelte della figlia. Osservandola da lontano come una mamma sa fare. Chiedendo, anzi scrivendo a Roger, consigli e preoccupazioni su ciò che accade alla figlia. Il tutto inizia quando Bethany trova il famoso diario che Roger scrive, scritti in parte dal punto di vista di lei. Decide di rispondergli e inizia cosi una corrispondenza a tre voci, Roger, Bethany e DD. Danno vita così ad un carteggio segreto, intimo e surreale, che stimola Roger nel riprendere il suo romanzo in mano e rendere parallele le vite dei personaggi del romanzo con le loro. Il libro di Coupland è un il ritratto dell’uomo, delle sue fragilità insicurezze. E’ lo stimolo a ritirarsi su e ricominciare dopo che si ha toccato il barato..il fondo. La voglia di dare uno scossone agli altri, ma nello stesso tempo a se stessi.. LUNGO LA STRADA COMMETERAI UN SACCO DI ERRORI, E MI ASPETTO CHE MOLTI DI QUESTI SARANNO ANCHE DIVERTENTI. IL MONDO E’ UN BEL POSTO. LA VITA E’BREVE ED E’ COMUNQUE LUNGA. VIVERE E’ UN DONO. Trovo che sono delle parole splendide e vere.. Insomma da ricordare. E da leggere
Hay una edad en la que parece que todos nos quedamos atascados. Alguien nos pregunta cuántos años tenemos y respondemos, pero no podemos evitar vernos a nosotros mismos como alguien más joven, suspendidos en algún momento clave de nuestro pasado. En esa era extraña de los veintitantos, donde todo es posible y no hay urgencia por certezas.
Es el planteamiento que ronda como fantasma en cada página de El Ladrón de Chicles, y debo confesar que me ha impactado con todo, para convertirse en uno de los libros más entrañables que haya leído últimamente, pero si lo hubiera leído a los 26 años lo hubiera odiado.
Se trata de un caso curioso, esta novela la compré en un botadero a precio de remate y estuvo acumulando polvo en mi librero por más de dos años, pero justo hace una semana por azares del destino la llevé conmigo para acompañarme en un traslado hacia el Teatro Diana, para asistir a un concierto de Fito Paez, llegué casi una hora antes de que iniciara el evento pero al final ya no quería entrar porque me había atrapado su historia y reflexiones, necesitaba resolver la vida de Roger y los demás.
Las novelas epistolares siempre me cuestan trabajo, y esta tarda casi 40 páginas en despegar, pero luego, una vez que las reglas son planteadas, toma un ritmo borgiano imposible de abandonar, donde caminas, como Alicia dentro del agujero del conejo, por el cuento dentro del cuento dentro del cuento, para descubrir que la ficción simulada en realidad termina marcando la pauta de lo que consideramos que es nuestra vida real. Así sucede con los protagonistas de El Ladrón de Chicles y la novela ficticia de Glove Pond, que sacude el mundo de todos, dentro y fuera de sus hojas, incluyendo al lector.
Conforme más viejo te haces es menos inevitable confrontar que debes ser el dueño responsable de tus acciones, porque el futuro ya está aquí, e invariablemente no tendremos las respuestas para él, sólo el ánimo de encontrar un medio para ser felices.
The Gum Thief by Douglas Coupland was a novel that I knew I needed to read as soon as I found out that it was set in a Staples office supply store. The unusual setting called out to me, and I was well rewarded for listening. I was impressed with how captivating and exciting the author made Staples turn out to be! I loved the unique, but easy to relate to characters. Their thoughts and dialogue often left me laughing out loud. I could genuinely sympathize with the characters and their situations while being highly entertained.
Despite the hilarious observations made about people and the bizarre situations that presented themselves in this book, there were quite a lot of deep, often insightful truths revealed about life. I expected this book to be a light "fluff" read, but if you take the time to think about what is being said, it has a much more meaningful quality to it. Under the humorous exterior of The Gum Thief, there is a lot of deep exploration into human emotions and desires.
Glove Pond, the novel within the novel, was very funny, and it also kept the pace of the novel from getting tedious. I enjoyed the little breaks in the main plot. The toast bits made me laugh a lot too. Those who have no idea what I'm talking about will understand once they have read it. Another great element of The Gum Thief is that Coupland filled it with nifty tidbits of information. I often found myself wondering whether something mentioned was true or not, which resulted in me rushing off to Google it.
I enjoyed the format that the novel was written in, a series of journal entries and letters, because it kept the plot fast paced, yet comfortable. It was a well written book, and I thought it had a great flow.
I would absolutely recommend this novel to anyone who likes to curl up with a good book!
There's a certain predictability to a Douglas Coupland novel. It's kind of like reading Vonnegut, or watching an episode of Law and Order. You know what you're going to get.
Not much of a break from form on this novel - the typical zeitgeist shennanigans we've come to expect, the typically depressed teenager, the chapters divided by character. A lot of it felt a little formulaic, but at the same time, it's kind of like putting on an old, comfortable sweater.
The story is one of despair at the local Staples. Seriously. It may sound silly, but it is very relatable, and a relatively satisfying read.
The real interesting element of the novel, and I would argue that it is a continuation of an experiment Coupland first began in "All Families are Psychotic" is the playing around with metafiction. In AFaP, Coupland went the Paul Auster route - having a character with his own name, based pretty much on him - interesting, but not groundbreaking. This novel instead takes a metafiction meets Cheever sort of vibe - a novella in a novel, with the author as a character separate from his story (sort of). It's an interesting device, and in spite of the terrible name of the novella, it makes the novel that much better.
I feel like I'm doing a Reading Rainbow review in that I've not answered much about the content of the novel - well, it's short. Read it yourself. It's very much in line with Microserfs, jPod, even shades of Shampoo Planet. And it's a hell of a lot better than Girlfriend in a Coma.
This novel was just interesting enough to keep turning the pages, but just barely. I gave this one a shot because I had read another Coupland novel and saw promise in his writing, but now I'm starting to think he's just a very average writer. It's not that he doesn't do things well, he does, specifically when it comes to trying to show the internal ruminations of his characters, but that's not enough. In this novel we are really given 2-3 main characters and a handful of vague supporting ones. The problem here is that none of the characters are all that likeable and you're left shaking your head at their thoughts and actions. At first I thought Staples would actually be a good setting for a novel of disillusionment, but it's not as prominent a setting as I had hoped for. Our main character is an everyday loser in his 40s whose live had fallen so far off track that he's just a walking pile of sadness, but the catch is he has found hope through a book he has started to write. The problem is the book is horrible, as we the reader get to read it in between chapters of the main story. The problem is it's treated as wonderful by the other characters in the main story line... which just makes us, the reader, shake our head. The more I write this review the more disdain I'm finding for this book and it's characters, honestly I'm wondering what good I found in this book at all.
An easy and fun read - never dull and always full of surprises. A series of letters between some unlikely work colleagues undergoing their own struggles. Probably really tough to write and he made it look simple. Life affirming and just what I probably needed after a few heavy books. 4 stars.