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?
Sounds like fun — reminds me a little of Larry David’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm” — he was so socially awkward it made me cringe, but still very funny!
I think you might have a typo in the author’s quote — do you mean “regrets” about his twenties? I agree, we all do ; )
Hope you are enjoying the summer. Shocked to read in your column Monday that Nashville schools are back in session next week! Gasp.
Hi Sara! Thank you for catching that typo! Good grief. Summer has been all too short! I’ve gotten quite lazy in the mornings. It’s going to be a shock to the system to get back in the routine! I hope all is well with you and those darling boys. Thanks again for catching the egregious error this morning!!
I actually love Douglas Coupland. his novels Microserfs, Life After God, and Generation X are good reads. This one… well… I too felt squeamish at times. And laughed. Still, I felt like he pushed too much, turning satire into farce. You know?
It’s really too bad that this was your introduction to Coupland. He IS a great writer. If you ever want to tackle another of his books, do get Life After God. It’s probably his best.
Thanks for sharing!
Hi, Carole! I appreciate your comments so much! I think you’ve said it beautifully and are exactly right: this book aimed for satire, but ended up as farce. I’m so happy you’ve recommended another Coupland for me! I will order Life After God today!
Yay! Hope you enjoy it!
Good for you for reviewing a book that you ultimately did not like! Reading is kind of like dating—you learn and grow from even the painful experiences. Bad books can nurture in you a hunger for good ones. I might read Life After God as well. I probably won’t read Worst.Person.Ever., though I really like the title!
You are so right about some books nurturing a hunger for others, Todd. I really appreciate your comment! Let’s discuss Life After God!!
Jennifer, your post made me laugh. It’s good to remind ourselves that even when we think we are the “worst person ever,” it all kind of works out in the end.
I concluded that reading this crazy book was totally worth it when I got to that author comment at the end. Somehow it was just what I needed to hear, too. Thank you so much for your comment, Carrie!