Book Review: JPod by Douglas Coupland

Maybe my sense of satire is very low as the book itself states that only one third of the population understands irony, but I did not enjoy Douglas Coupland’s JPod at all. The book irritated me.

It started to pretty well, and being set in Vancouver – a city I fell in love with in a short week’s time, was an additional impetus. However, if you need to read nine other unrelated books by an author in order to enjoy his tenth, I do not want to spend the energy.

Sadly, JPod seems to borrow a lot from the previous books written by Coupland, and appears to be focused on the already established audience. It tells a story of six people stuck in a pod of a videogame design company, and they all have last names starting with the alphabet J. They practically live in their JPod and hate their shitty job and shittier bosses, who seem to have no sense of direction or a clear purpose. Neither do the other JPodders who spend their entire day googling trivia and making fictitious lists. The protagonist is irksome and hardly likable, he spends all his energies in either procrastinating or making cereal runs for his pod. Else, he helps his mom get rid of dead bodies or watches his dad doing a “Canteen” in the ballroom. Yes, the events of the book are extremely over the top and hardly gripping. Moreover, every time I found myself absorbed in a certain arch (like the one about faking creativity in meetings), my attention was diverted by the pages after pages of code, spam mails, words not recognized my Microsoft Word software, or pie values with some wrong digits. I am not sure if these intertextual data-bursts are supposed to be amusing, geeky, or a mere carryover from what Coupland did in his previous successful books, but they grew extremely annoying after a certain time.

Also, the characters are very vague, almost interchangeable, and most disagreeable. Amorality comes naturally to everyone. As I said previously, maybe this review is biased because I am not fond of satire as a rule, and I haven’t read much either. However, if amorality entertains and grips, I doubt I would be complaining. Ethan, the protagonist, has no agenda in life, neither do his parents; though they seem like busy bodies always up to something, anything. The books tone changes after every chunk of data-burst of code or spam emails. Ethan with his boring life of procrastination moves from murder to manslaughter, and then to drugs trafficking, while his silly boss tries to add an animated turtle to the skateboard video game to connect with his estranged son, but somehow ends up in a Nike sweatshop in China. The book plays up the stereotypes, both Chinese and Vancouverean. However, the thing that put me completely off was the smug appearance of Douglas Coupland himself in the latter half of the book. He appears to be a commentator as well as a blowup avatar all at once.

The book comes to a full cycle with its bizarrely happy ending. The JPodders end up in a different pod in Coupland’s company. They are still the same, lost and directionless but they are happy, since it’s a new place and new places are nice.

However, the book does have sparks of ingenuity every now and then. The best one being the prompt at the end mimicking a videogame, “Play Again? Y/N.” This makes the intentions of the author clear, and gives meaning to the otherwise eccentric ending of the story. Basically, once you reach your destination and embrace victory, the score is reset and all you can do is to go through the same mechanical game or life again, trying to meet the victory conditions all over again.

While that makes sense, it is not my cup of tea. I am just glad that it is over.

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