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All Families are Psychotic

by Douglas Coupland

Janet Drummond is central to this strangely- functioning family. Her marriage with Ted is emphatically over (probably.) The world of post-war domesticity and child-rearing is absolutely behind her (but they never actually seem to need her any less.) Memories intertwine the present and at times Janet seems half asleep (probably the drugs.) Now she embarks on a journey to (ineffectually) support her daughter who is confidant and super clever (plus neurotic) and who is about to be blasted into space on the latest NASA space shuttle mission. Punctuated by repeat reminders to take her cocktail of medication (she has HIV) she takes time to appraise the less illustrious members of her family, who like bad pennies, keep on turning up, stunning Janet and the reader with their latest irrational and ill-advised ventures.

Coupland has created a fantastic cast in this family of misfits - high-achieving but neurotic Sarah, roguish Wade, suicidal misfit Bryan and ghastly Peter Pan ex-husband, Ted. Their respective partners (including the repellent, vowel-free Shw) plus Wade's criminal fraternity colleagues add wonderful glimpses of an American Dream gone decidedly sour. Coupland's villains have all the best lines - Norm and Florain are masterpieces in cynical nastiness. Many, many disasters befall this family and its hangers on: escaping a psycho baby-scamming-adoption couple and being left for dead, handcuffed in a Florida swamp, to name a couple. How do such terrible things happen to such nice people? But this is the essence of farce, and at times the reader is almost shouting out loud ("behind you…"). Coupland has written a very amusing story, very sure-footed in its expose of the rotten heart of America, its hypocrisy and dreams gone wrong. It is sure to spark interesting discussions for bookgroups - particularly how a family such as this, a veritable wreckage of the accepted notion of a nuclear unit, can survive at all. At times Coupland's writing is a little hyper, and on close scrutiny the characters are quite ludicrous, but it is a super-real, cartoon-like world and not to be confused with reality. Thank goodness, as Janet would say.

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