Friday, October 17, 2008

All Families are Psychotic

All Families are Psychotic by Douglas Coupland was originally published in 2001. My hardcover copy is 279 pages. This book reads like the satirical storyline for a dysfunctional soap opera family. Copeland's wry wit is present in smaller doses than found in previous novels. This is an enjoyable read, however, if only for the twists and turns of the plot and to discover what new mayhem is happening next to the Drummond family. Rating: 4 Review
Canadian author Douglas Coupland's seventh novel could be subtitled When Bad Things Happen to Bad People. As the estranged members of the Drummond family straggle into Florida for youngest sister Sarah's impending space shuttle launch, we only begin to glimpse the true meaning of the word dysfunctional. The family, plagued by terminal disease, financial disaster, felonious activity, infidelity, and violence, is forced--by a series of ever more fantastic occurrences--to attempt to deal with each other. That would be an easier task if they didn't loathe one another with a ferocity usually reserved for war criminals. It's not quite Jerry Springer-style tabloid TV set in Disney's Haunted Mansion, but the family members do muster the strength to insult, assault, and infect one another with abandon. With the exception of the family matriarch, Janet, they are unappealing and selfish, but without Machiavellian brilliance. Instead, they're inclined toward out-and-out stupidity, blinded by self-interest rather than enlightened by it. As they bumble through misadventure after misadventure, there seems to be no reason to cheer for them. Even Sarah, the family's shining star, has her dark side.

True to Coupland's style, the book reads lightning fast. The author punctuates his narrative with clipped dialogue and punchy exchanges that advance the palpable sense of unease and tension running throughout. And amidst the acrimony, Coupland throws a genuine caper into the plot, involving Prince William's farewell letter to his mother, Princess Diana. Add to that the oppressive heat and the postmodern, pop culture junkyard of Coupland's Florida setting, and the entire book brews and builds like a roiling tropical storm. --S. Duda

"Janet opened her eyes - Florida's prehistoric glare dazzled outside the motel window." opening sentence

"Wade, I'm not a saint. I've been holding stuff inside me for decades - girls my age were trained to do that, and it's why we all have colitis. Besides, a dash of spicy language is refreshing every so often." pg. 4

"The science fiction planet of Florida passed by the cab window: pastel-toned and smooth, one image dissolving into the next. The palmetto scrub landscape would, for no apparent reason burst into a cluster of wealthy superhomes here, then a burst of lower-middle class discount stores there - followed by a business park, followed by a tourist attraction." pg. 36

"Some years back, when she'd first begun tromping about the internet, she'd been flustered at how even the most innocent of words placed into a search engine triggered an immediate cascade of filth." pg. 37

"It was at the point where magazine articles, Doris Day films and her mother went silent." pg. 52

"All families are psychotic, Wade. Everybody has basically the same family - it's just reconfigured slightly different from one to the next." pg. 66

"So I think Daytona Beach is for all those people who run to the ticket both first on the morning after a lottery. They know that the really good beaches were swiped by rich people at least a century ago. They know this is the only beach they're ever likely to get - but they also think that maybe for once they'll get a deep tropical tan instead of burning all pink, and maybe for once the margaritas'll make them witty instead of shrill and boring...." pg. 177

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