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issue no.
  thursday
161
  january 22
2004
c o n t e n t s
 
Tread Lightly and Carry a Big Beard: Two New Bands Enter the Scene
RED Reviews
 
Projecting Self: Erica Church Presents Myth and Video
 
 
Sundance and Sundon't: The Only Reason We Still Feel Special Rolls Into Town
 
 
 

 theArts

 

Coupland Ponders Violence and Mortality in 'Hey Nostradamus!'
 
by Flora Bernard
   
Hey Nostradamus!
Douglas Coupland
Bloomsbury USA
240 Pages
$21.95 Hardback

Hey Nostradamus! Did you predict that once we found the promised land, we’d all start offing each other? And did you predict that once we found the promised land, it’d be the final promised land, and there’d never be another one again? And if you were such a good clairvoyant, why didn’t you just write things straight out? And what’s with all the rhyming quatrains? Thanks for nothing.

In his most recent novel, Hey Nostradamus!, Douglas Coupland clearly explains how just a few minutes of inexplicable and unjust violence permanently altered the jagged and winding course of one man’s spiritual path. The story is deeply reflective of the state of the union following a series of jarring events—and a bit more digestible than the title’s legendary prophet might have expressed.

As we struggle with international relations and internal disputes, America has understandably attempted to collectively move beyond the horror of the infamous Trench coat Mafia and the Columbine High School tragedy. However, such graphic phenomena have haunting permanent effects and certainly cause us to pause and question faith, family and the meaning of it all. “God is nowhere? God is Now Here?” read the ironic musings of a high school girl, scrawled in her notebook just minutes prior to her senseless death.

Hey Nostradamus! has four narrators, starting with Cheryl, a pretty and rigidly Christian high school student who is killed in a school shooting shortly after secretly marrying her boyfriend, Jason. Cheryl speaks from beyond the grave to explain the quirky circumstances immediately preceding her death. Coupland explores the less-than-innocent high school psyche, the peculiar agony of religious peer pressure and other strange taboos, as Jason and Cheryl attempt to keep their wedding sacred and their lustful love sessions a secret from their brow-furrowing friends. With Cheryl, Coupland introduces another side of his tender and intuitive writing style. She is a pure and painfully innocent character, in contrast to the majority of hilarious, lovable and extremely human signature characters from his previous novels.

Jason himself authors the next section from the present tense as a middle-aged, single and lonely person. In a revealing letter to his twin nephews—the sons of his dead brother—he shows us the domino effect initiated by the abrupt loss of his high school sweetheart, followed by his equally religious brother’s demise.

He also displays his own state of off-and-on, self-inflicted renegade loneliness and takes the opportunity to offer up a few colorful and peculiar family secrets. Coupland delicately attacks religious hypocrisy with his all-too-accurate portrayal of Jason’s so-called friends—members of the Christian club, Youth Alive!—and their vicious betrayal of his friendship in the immediate aftermath of the slayings.

He also critiques the unkind and inexplicable betrayal of Jason by his own stubbornly fundamentalist father, Reg, who calls his son a “murderer” for saving himself and a dozen of his fellow students by killing one of the shooters. Reg is without question the most brilliantly crafted and dynamic dancer in Coupland’s neurotic character parade. Perhaps it is the influence of his years working in the field of nonfiction that lends such succinct, razor-sharp honesty to the confessions, desperation and regrets of Coupland’s all-too-familiar characters. Jason minces no words in his account, which is punctuated with random crises and hilarious, unanticipated plot twists.

The last two chapters star, respectively, Heather—Jason’s current girlfriend (seven years his senior)—and Reg, both of whom are coping with Jason’s abrupt and mysterious absence. They form an unlikely and comforting relationship that reaffirms Coupland’s strange ability to speak directly from the naked human soul, expressing both sorrow and the blackest, most cynical humor. Hey Nostradamus! is a brutally funny, cozy and thoughtful read for anyone who has ever had their doubts about the whole “God” thing. It’s tamer than All Families Are Psychotic, but it’s definitely not Seabiscuit. Don’t lend it to your pastor or your Bible-thumpin’ father-in-law.
staff@red-mag.com



 
 

 

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