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
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
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.