This is my first instalment in the Re-read Challenge since signing up or it in January, and here’s what I’ve learned through this challenge so far: I am great at rereading books and terrible at writing about them. I originally committed to 12 books, but I think I’m going to scale back to 6, which puts me at least a little bit more on track…
But anyway. Let’s talk about Girlfriend in a Coma. It’s a weird one, but a good one.
The title character, Karen, falls asleep in 1979 – and doesn’t wake up until for the next seventeen years. As her five closest friends discover, her coma was preceded – and caused – by a vision of the apocalypse. Will Karen ever wake up? Will the apocalypse truly come to pass? And why is any of this stuff happening in the first place?
It’s maybe the weirdest plot I’ve heard, especially for fiction that grounds itself solidly in the real world. There’s a ghost, a premonition, a sort of plague that strikes down most of the population. Really, really zany stuff.
But somehow it’s also hilarious and honest and good. Coupland has a knack for portraying what I lovingly refer to as the loser next door: characters with potential and an urge to do something with their lives, but somehow keep fumbling and dropping the ball when it comes time to make something out of their lives. They’re shiftless, directionless, constantly worried. This is a character type full of tropes that resonates pretty damn well with the post-boomer generations, which might be why I like it so much. After all, we’ve been told we’ll never be able to pay off our student loans, or afford to buy houses, or find satisfying jobs. It’s a worrying time to be alive. The sentiment might have a dash of schadenfreude to it, but it’s somehow comforting to see those same generational anxieties reflected in literature. This is a bit of a schtick for Coupland, and sometimes he gets a bad rap for it. But it’s something I dig.
And for me, Girlfriend in a Coma is a great candidate for the Re-read Challenge: this is the third time I’ve read it, and all three readings have been drastically different experiences.
When I first picked it up in 2007, I didn’t understand it – or like it – at all. Too zany, too off-the-wall, and I my life anxieties had yet to peak in the way that would truly allow me to commiserate with these characters.
On the other end of the scale, I loved every minute of it when I picked it up again in summer of 2014. I finally recognized it for what it is: a funny little creature that talks about dreams and hopes and fears and the sheer disastrousness of letting meaning leech out of your life without noticing. Granted, it’s a bit didactic – but it’s a moral I think everyone should hear and remember now and again.
Finally, the third time I read this novel was a totally different beast from the first two readings, largely thanks to the fact that I’m writing the first chapter of my Master’s thesis about it. This means reading closely, considering weird (and sometimes pointless) questions like who takes the role of the prophet? or how does nature fit into this novel, thematically? or why did is there a scene with ostriches? Long story short: this further I dig into this novel, the more muddled it becomes. But I’m finding plenty of meaty stuff to consider. My copy of the book currently boasts more than a hundred post-it notes, which I think is a good sign.
The verdict: this is one of the novels that will either be exactly your cup of tea or entirely the opposite. The good news is that it should be pretty easy to figure out early on, and I present the first line of the novel to you as proof:
I’m Jared, a ghost.