A quartet of monologues about the aftermath of a high-school mass shooting.
Set in suburban Canada between the late 1980s and now, each of Coupland’s four sections here is narrated by a person in some way affected by a 1988 Columbine-like massacre. Setting the shooting that far in the past, years before something of its magnitude became a part of the mediascape, is an odd misstep for Coupland (All Families Are Psychotic, 2001, etc.), who normally has his antenna zoomed-in with radar precision on the Zeitgeist. Cheryl, the subject of section one, had just been secretly married to her boyfriend on the day she was killed in the massacre, and her memories leading up to that day are interspersed with the horrific details of the shooting itself. Then we’re introduced to Jason, her husband, who heroically killed one of the shooters but ended up being vilified in the media and seeing his life turn to one of aimless dissolution. The book’s last half is made up of a desultory slog through the life of the woman Jason later abandons, then of a brief, beside-the-point coda from Jason’s ultrareligious father. There’s some excellent material here, especially in the parts detailing the Christian youth group that Cheryl belonged to (an entire novel could have been written on the neurotic, cultlike ostracizing and later the near-deification of Cheryl). As an engine for moving a story along, the massacre at first seems a perfect choice but later feels only like an arbitrary and borderline exploitative excuse to link these stories together.
It’s not that Coupland can’t conceptualize with more significance than is on display here; it’s just that he seems not to want to. Cleanly written but lacking steam.