The Gum Thief – Douglas Coupland

 

Intrigued by the unique title and the eye-catching cover, I picked up “The gum thief” expecting this to be a delightful read, especially after reading some reviews on the back about the ingenious writing. However, I soon realized, after a few chapters, that this is not my cup of tea.

 

The writing, kept raw and casual, is a bit choppy and ordinary for me. It seems as though the author copied and pasted segments of normal life conversation onto paper without editing much. This is not a flaw; I can definitely understand why this type of writing appeals to certain readers. However, I find the style segmented and disconnected. The flow of the story is interrupted by different narrations and aspects from different characters that, although serve the same aim of describing the chaotic universe,  didn’t quite work with me to bring out a coherent flow throughout the book. The rise and fall of each character’s life story is undermined and blurred by Coupland’s attempt to fit too many narrators into one book.

 

None of the characters really stand out to me. They either fall into stereotypes (an “emo kid”, a “loser in life”, a divorced woman, a dedicated mother) or are rather flat and unconvincing. On top of that “Glove pond” became a redundant addition, or bonus, to the novel’s stagnant plot. I understand that “Glove Pond” is presented in the book to further explain Roger’s perspective on his life events; however, the relation and similarity is not highlighted. In other words, I found it difficult to follow his line of thoughts, especially with all the interruptions from other fragments of stories floating around.

 

I wasn’t emotionally engaged with any of their tales, nor their feelings and aspects to life. It felt a bit like a cliche at certain parts, especially with the way suddenly Roger and Bethany “cared” about each other’s feelings. It is also rather annoyingly coincidental that all four people in this novel somehow have links to each other.

 

Nevertheless, the book had certain sentences that were profoundly amusing. Certain similes and metaphors he used convinced me that Coupland is indeed a good writer (occasionally).

 

Or maybe memories are like karaoke- where you realize up on the stage, with all those lyrics scrawling across the screen’s bottom, and with everybody clapping at you, that you didn’t know even half the lyrics to your all-time favourite song. Only afterwards, […] do you realize that what you liked most about your favourite song was precisely your ignorance of its full meaning. […] I think it’s better to not know the lyrics to your life.” Definitely, part of what makes life interesting is the spontaneity and unpredictable randomness of it all. Who would want to live if we’ve got all the plot outlined and presented to us from birth?

 

And Coupland has the exact reason why we shouldn’t be emo all the time: “you’re all about death, and that was interesting for a while, but now I’m back in the land of living. […] It’s as if, to you, being a live is a prank that you’re playing on the world. I don’t get your joke any more.” Live life to the fullest no matter what, because at least mother nature gave us an assignment to be in existent. Nothing is more irresponsible and ignorant than just letting it drift away.

 

And I laughed at his observation that “we’re having full time one-on-one unprotected sex wit the twenty-first century, exchanging fluids with the era: antibiotics, swimming pool chlorine, long-chain molecules, gas fumes, new car smell – all of it one great big condom-free involuntary love-in.

 

Douglas Coupland has a sharp eye out on the world, but for “the gum thief”, his style did not sit well with me in the end. 

 

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