A free range reader takes chances on new authors, new genres, old classics, and books with great covers. Sometimes these choices lead to brilliant discoveries! But the free range reader sometimes buys a book in haste or confusion, leading to distressing reading experiences.
I bought Worst.Person.Ever. on the fly one day, confusing the author with Douglas Adams, who wrote Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. (Embarrassing.) I was in for a surprise!
Worst.Person.Ever., by Douglas Coupland, is possibly the most offensive novel I’ve ever read while also laughing out loud, and it has garnered some truly scathing reviews. I cannot recommend it – but I must admit that I didn’t put it down either.
Worst.Person.Ever. is the comic tale of Raymond Gunt, who over the course of this short novel travels from London to the (fictional) island of Bonriki, where he is to work as a cameraman for a television show called “Survival.” His angry ex-wife Fiona has organized this job for him, and she wants him to suffer. You can see why. Raymond’s selfishness is boundless, in all circumstances. On the first leg of his flight to Bonriki, for instance, he manages to provoke a heart attack in a fellow passenger and then resents the attention paid to the man’s death: “as if dying on a plane is some big accomplishment. Thirty minutes were wasted while medics came to retrieve his husk, and there weren’t even any snacks or drinks while we waited at the gate for them to do their thing.”
By the end of the novel, Raymond has possibly learned a few lessons and come close to making a right choice. His personal growth is not why you keep reading, though. You read because it is funny and awful and an effective distraction. If you are angry at a spouse, child, friend or co-worker, you will forget their grave offenses. You’ll forget to be worried about the past, the present, or the future. You will learn a few new terms.
Also – your blood pressure might skyrocket. If Worst.Person.Ever. is meant to be a satire of the vices of contemporary culture, Coupland seems to inhabit and enjoy the excesses of that culture (through his anti-hero) perhaps a little too much.
You might know that Coupland coined the term “Generation X” in his novel by the same name, published in 1991. A prolific Canadian, he has also written 13 other novels and many other works of short fiction and non-fiction. I love what he said in the author’s note at the end of Worst.Person.Ever., in a question and answer session with himself:
Does he have any regrets about his twenties? Oh, sure, everyone does. Coupland wishes he hadn’t worried so much and had relaxed a little. But, like most people with this mind-set, he believes that his life would have gone nowhere had he not worried so much and that it was the worrying itself that got him out into the world, hustling his ass and doing stuff. Coupland is quite certain, however, that he had a protective coating of youthful cluelessness that allowed him to make life decisions that, upon mature reflection, are utterly horrifying. For example, attending art school and then…discovering writing and deciding to become a writer. Talk about a surefire career path! And yet it all kind of worked out in the end, and we must thank nature specifically for loaning us all a protective coating of cluelessness in our youth.
“And yet it all kind of worked out in the end.” What more could one hope to say, ever?