Sunday 16 March 2014

Book Review - The Gum Thief

In 2010 I read a book by Douglas Coupland, Player One, What is to Become of Us, and thoroughly enjoyed it. I loved how it made me think. I read a lot of non-fiction and decided I needed something more off the wall to read and realized that I haven't read any more of Coupland's works, so ordered The Gum Thief.

In Douglas Coupland's ingenious new novel we meet Roger, a divorced, middle-aged "aisles associate" at a Staples outlet, condemned to restocking reams of twenty-lb. bond paper for the rest of his life. And then there's Roger's co-worker Bethany, who's at the end of her Goth phase, and young enough to be looking at fifty more years of sorting the red pens from the blue in Aisle Six. 

One day, Bethany comes across 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. She also learns he has a tragedy in his past-and suddenly he no longer seems like just a paper-stocking robot with a name tag. 

These two retail workers strike up a peculiar and touching epistolary relationship, their lives unfolding 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, highlights number-one bestselling author Douglas Coupland's eye for the comedy, loneliness and strange comforts of contemporary life. 

Everything that happens in this book is told through diary entries and letters and it's fascinating how well this works.

There are really two stories being told here. One is the story of Bethany, a young goth girl with a very negative view on life, and Roger, an older man who works with her, who has been dragged through hell in his life and has a very negative attitude towards life himself. Maybe that's why they can relate so well to each other.

The second is the story of Glove Pond, a book that Roger is writing. At first I thought it was a little dumb but then got really pulled into that story too. Interesting that Glove Pond actually has a listing and review on Goodreads!

Unstoppable rage smolders amid the imploding remains of a dying marriage. A college-town academic, Steve, is hectored and tormented by his bullying, shrewish wife, Gloria. The appearance of a younger successful novelist, Kyle Falconcrest, and his wife, Brittany, becomes the final ingredient in a powder keg of lust, revenge, alcoholism and unthinkable secrets.

In the end I hoped that both the story of the characters in the book and Glove Pond would all have a satisfactory finish,  At first I thought one did and one did not. After thinking about this for awhile, I decided that both endings were very good.

That's what's so great about Douglas Coupland. He makes you think. A great read, although the people at Staples may not think so!

I'm the dead girl whose locker you spat on somewhere between recess and lunch.

I'm not really dead, but I dress like I want to be. There's something generic about girls like me: we hate the sun, we wear black, and we feel trapped inside our bodies like a nylon fur mascot at a football game. 

I wish I were dead most of the time. I can't believe the meat I got stuck with, and where I got stuck and with whom. I wish I were a ghost. 

And FYI, I'm not in school any more, but the spitting thing was real: a little moment that sums up life. I work in a Staples. I'm in charge of restocking aisles 2-North and 2-South: Sheet Protectors, Indexes & Dividers, Note books, Post-It Products, Paper Pads, Specialty Papers and "Social Stationery." Do I hate this job? Are you nuts? Of course I hate it. How could you not hate it? Everyone who works with me is either already damaged or else they're embryos waiting to be damaged, fresh out of school and slow as a 1999 modem. Just because you've been born and made it through high school doesn't mean society can't still abort you. Wake up. 

Let me try to say something positive here. For balance. Staples allows me to wear black lipstick to work. -Bethany -from The Gum Thief.

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