This book is amazing.
Being a huge Douglas Coupland fan it may not surprise you that my opinions on this are going to be rather biased. I won’t over-glorify the novel, however, because it does have its flaws – problems that I can easily identify and then just as easily justify into unimportance.
NOTE1: The end of the book will leave you feeling cheated and baffled. Mr Coupland does this in every novel he writes; he builds up to some extravagant ending that will have some sort of profound meaning until he just…stops. It’s an annoying thing to do because he leaves you begging to know what happens to his characters. Often though, the rest of novel was so spectacular before the last page that you soon forget about moaning. Few authors I know have affected me in such a way.
NOTE2: Unlike Coupland’s other works, JPod has few, if any, really profoundly existential ideas. The closest we come to this in JPod is a brief scene where one of the characters claims that every person in the world suffers from some kind of autism. An interesting thing to consider when put into the context of the story. So JPod has no real philosophical message; there’s no underlying “what would you do for someone you love?” kind of thing here. So what’s the point in the novel?
It is amazingly funny. Sometimes we just want a book that makes us feel good. And frankly, I couldn’t think of a better book myself…
Onto the good stuff then!
JPod is primarily set in the office of a videogames company, revolving around the narrator and main character, Ethan, and his co workers. Ethan and his colleagues work in “JPod”, a place where – due to an administrative error – every worker with a surname beginning with J is shoved and ultimately forgotten. “Once you’re in JPod, you don’t get out.”
Each character is rather unique and, although not exactly deep, their personalities are the basis for most of the hilarity in the novel. The character flaws and personality traits act as the cement for the novel as, much like a TV sitcom, there is little plot to follow, merely absurd events that the characters experience.
First there’s Ethan, the main character and narrator. It is not Ethan’s personality directly that is funny about him, but his family; a drug-dealing mother, a failing film extra for a father and a brother who involves himself with the Chinese mafia – the boss of whom suffers from a medical condition that causes him to literally have no sense of humour. It is Ethan’s exchanges with his family that fuel much of the ridiculous plots in the novel: “Mom, you killed a biker?”
Then we have Cowboy; he wears a cowboy hat and pretty much tries to have sex with anything that moves. There is a scene which involves him, a botched internet date, his sister and a remote-controlled vibrator. Cue the laughs.
Prepare yourself for JPod’s third resident; crow well mountain juniper (all lower case), although he recently changed his name to John Doe. John Doe is the funniest and most absurd character that I have ever encountered in any novel. Due to his very, very, very weird upbringing, Mr Doe is attempting to become the most average man in the world. Example: using the internet, he determines the favourite snack bought in hotel minibars (M&Ms) and attempts to prove that they are also his favourite snack. The irony is evident here; John Doe, in attempting to become the most average man in the world, becomes more absurd and strange as the novel progresses.
One of the newest members of the JPod team is Mark. Due to the fact that he is very new, nobody knows much about him and so, in order to counteract his boring nature, he is renamed “Evil Mark”. The interesting thing about this name is that as the novel progresses, Evil Mark starts to become like it; muttering uncharacteristically ‘evil’ things in discussions. He also has an odd obsession with edible stationary: “Today I licked Evil Mark’s stapler. It does taste of marzipan.”
The two women that inhabit JPod are perhaps the least contrived of all of the characters. Bree is the highly sexualised yet femininely dominant one who uses her sexuality to get what she wants, whereas Kaitlin is the new girl in JPod who quickly becomes the love interest and voice of reason of Ethan. They have their moments but they are nowhere near as amusing or memorable as the others.
As I have said before; it is the differing character personalities that fuel and cause interest within the shallow yet hilarious plot lines. Yet, not only this, JPod is a whole pool full of pop-culture references. Few pages go by without an explicit mention of The Simpsons or brand names. McDonald’s is featured heavily at one point where all the characters write a letter to Ronald McDonald convincing him why they should be picked for a date with him. Coupland has an extremely good understanding of the culture we live in and he uses its various trends and nuances with ingenuity.
Videogame references pop up every now and again but despite the setting of a videogame company, the references are few compared to the amount of other pop culture spewing. A great example would be the various pages of email spam that Coupland has dotted within the novel. Have you ever received an email trying to sell you cheap Xanax? I have, and Coupland has a whole page dedicated to this email, as well as others (“increase your penis size FREE!”) unexpectedly thrown in for good measure. They have no relevance to the novel’s plot or any of the characters, but within the context of the novel’s obsession with popular culture these moments of pointless information work to brilliant comic effect. The absurdity works because the whole novel is completely absurd.
The word “absurd” is often used in a negative way and I have used it a lot in this article, but as I stated at the beginning: this book is amazing. The absurdity is excellently done. With all the ‘highbrow’ books that I read for my course it’s nice to read for laughs instead of searching for a deeper meaning. If you’re looking for a page-turner that has LOL-orific moments in every paragraph, look no further than Douglas Coupland’s JPod….
By Aaron Myles