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jPod (D. Coupland)

2007-01-24 2 min read Books marco

jPod is the kind of book that makes me feel very ambivalent: lots of promise, but a lot of annoyance going along with it. In this, it reminds me of {moscontentlink:Eggers}: an ambitious novel, some excellent writing, but a lot of stuff that is completely unrelated to the main thread. In other words: it could have been a great book, but its shortcomings make it just enjoyable.
The story line follows a bunch of game developers whose last names start with the letter J – they are all placed in neighboring cubicles in a forced cohabitation from which they cannot escape. The jPodders are very different from each other, and their families play active roles in the novel.

It’s about a murder, about a Chinese immigrant smuggler ring, about game development and game development companies, and about Vancouver, B.C. Douglas Coupland, who amused me beyond means with his earlier novel, Microserfs, moved to B.C. and gives us an interesting view of his own surroundings.
Mr. Coupland’s skill as a writer is obvious, and nothing has been lost in the move. Success stories like Microserfs and Generation X are not flukes, and the writing in jPod flows superbly. The story line is coherent and works pretty well. So what’s the hangup?
jPod suffers from two major flaws: its characters, much in line with other Coupland books, are caricatures of themselves. You can stick a label onto each one of them, and the character will not deviate, a Borg drone in a Coupland novel.
The second issue is an innovative narrative device that just doesn’t work at all: Douglas Coupland inserts himself into the book as an active character. Initially, that’s by simple remote reference: “You are behaving like a character in a Douglas Coupland novel.” Later, the main character and first person narrator will meet Coupland on a plane. Even later, Coupland will create a startup and hire everyone in jPod, except the narrator into it.
I am not sure what Mr. Coupland was trying to accomplish, but it sounds terribly contrived and horribly self-serving. Maybe there was an attempt to be innovative, but I am pretty sure this is the kind of innovation that goes hand in hand with human cloning and therrmonuclear war. To paraphrase a successful Nike slogan: Just Don’t Do It.