25 August 2010

Book Review, 2004 (w/ a few 2010 edits)

"Douglas Coupland has aged a little poorly"

Winnipeg Free Press
Sun Nov 14 2004
Page: B9
Section: Books
Byline: Eleanor Rigby

By Douglas Coupland

Random House, 249 pages, $33

Reviewed by Lorne Roberts

DOUGLAS Coupland's novels were part of the formative years of the so-called Generation X, a group of mostly urban, mostly educated North Americans currently between the ages of 25 and 40. (In 2004-- now it's more like 30 to 45)

Coupland's three biggest books-- Generation X, Shampoo Planet and Life After God-- came out one after the other in the early '90s, just as grunge rock and alternative culture were cutting a wide swath through suburbia.

The books propelled Coupland, a visual artist trained at Vancouver's Emily Carr College, to near rock-star status, and made "slacker" a household word.

Like much of grunge culture though, Coupland's work has aged a little poorly. And while his renewed focus on the visual arts has been well-received, much of his recent literary output has met with lukewarm reception. (On August 22, 2010, an article in the National Post named him as one of Canada's ten most overrated writers. Whatever the frick that means.)

Anyway, with Eleanor Rigby, his latest (2004) novel, Coupland does little to prove his naysayers wrong. Like most of his work, there's a lot of soul-searching earnestness going on--it's rare to go a page or two in a Coupland novel without reading a contemplation of why we're here, of what it means to be human, to be loved, and to be lonely--but that hasn't always translated into good literature. And "Eleanor Rigby" isn't an exception. Borrowing its title from the famous Beatles song, the novels tells the story of Liz Dunn, a fortysomething office drone and a lonely, dateless woman who has never known love beyond a drunken fling on a high-school trip to Europe.

Through a strange series of coincidences and near-miracles which coincide with the arrival of some comets, Liz Dunn's life undergoes drastic changes.

The changes begin with the arrival of her dying son Jeremy, whom she gave up for adoption at birth, and who, in a too-easy literary trope, possesses some weird mystical powers that compensate for his illness.

As a touch of magical realism, events such as the arrivals of the comets, Jeremey's powers, and the novel's many strange coincidences could work, but Coupland simply doesn't build the reader's faith enough to accept that these events should all somehow coincide.

And perhaps more importantly, Coupland doesn't build enough interest in the characters or the plot to make the reader really care. Like so much of his writing, you get the sense that the narrator and most of the characters are just thinly disguised versions of the author writing in his diary.

And while that's worked for him before, it seems that, this far into his career, readers can expect more from Coupland.

Coupland isn't a bad writer. In fact, he's often been quite an exceptional one, and his career is probably long from over. It's just that he covers too much all at once, and so his stories, as a result, come across as half-finished. There are lots of good ideas at work in Coupland's books, and even profound truths, but they exist in isolation, and are never quite developed into a full-blown novel.

A lot of this isn't new ground, either, for readers familiar with his previous work. Most of the ideas that Coupland mulls over here, he's already covered elsewhere, and better.

To get a sense of the author at his soul-baring best, try his early novel Life After God. Or check out his recent (2004) two-volume photo project "Souvenirs of Canada". These days, it seems, his best work is in the visual arts.

Lorne Roberts, a Gen Xer himself, is (in 2004) or used to be (in 2010) the Winnipeg Free Press visual arts critic.

Here we go! just cutting some of the final pieces...

23 August 2010


This was an awesome Colombian/Panamanian music and dance troupe that went all over Tadoussac performing spontaneous shows on patios.

It's weird how much this girl looked and acted (even spoke) like our very own Druni.

22 August 2010


Tadoussac-- painting is by Charles Comfort, RCA, OC (1900-94), who grew up and painted in Winnipeg for many years, and was the first director of the National Gallery of Canada. Pics by me.

So, we just spent the past week here. Saw many, many whales. Did a lot of hiking-- up to 20 km or more a few days. Good times.

Tadoussac is a town that's over 400 years old (or at least the whitey part of its history is), and is about 650 km east of Montreal along the St. Lawrence. It's situated at the point where the Saguenay River/fjord meets the St. Lawrence, and so the water is a mix of salt and fresh water, therefore a perfect place for whales to feed. For eons, it was a meeting and trading place for the native inhabitants, and then the Jesuits set up a mission there. The church you see in one photo (and in the bottom middle of Comfort's painting) was built by the Jesuits and local carpenters in the 1740's to replace the original mission. Whaling and logging industries followed the Jesuits, and flourished in the region until the last few decades. These days, it's fairly touristy, but still remote enough that you have to be a bit adventurous to get there.

In addition to hiking and seeing whales, we also met cool french-speaking hippies, saw some great music (including an awesome old guy from Senegal), and did some serious camping.

16 August 2010

Mark your calendar


Saturday, September 25, 2010
12:00 PM - 3:00 PM


Over the past eight months James Culleton has been working hard to redesign one of the most popular front facades in Winnipeg. Attending the majority of productions at the West End Culleton has captured the spirit of the Cultural Centre through a series of line drawings. These are the basic design for the large steel sculptures which will soon adorn the Centre's exterior. Come and join us in celebrating the new sculptures, while discovering Culleton's process and intimate relationship with the music that inspires him. A gallery of his drawings will also be featured throughout the building.


586 Ellice Avenue
Winnipeg, Manitoba R3B 1Z8


On the corner of Sherbrook Street and Ellice Avenue.

not today

the work didn't start
so couldn't progress,
don't even think about finish.

contemplate excuses:
philosophize boredom
work procrastination
rationalise socio-cultural rearing of generation why.

more coffee - or maybe tea this time?
take a wonder
long way to the printer.

this time will be different
. . . really ready now.

(too much coffee)

(re)refresh email addresses 1, 2 and 3
(re)refresh facebook
re(refresh) twitter

alt + tab
look contemplative
close call: did they see?
alt + tab

cut and paste
change it's to it is
call it a day.

06 August 2010

So I was in the outhouse and I found this...

i changed the background...

but i don't really care much one way or the other what the background is. I was just taking a break at work and messing around with the settings.

Lately, I've been reading about how much electricity the internet uses, and how the more complicated it continues to get, this whole internet thing, the more electricity it continues to use. And we take it for granted here in Canada that electicity = hydro. In fact, we're the only place in the world that uses "hydro" as a synonym for "electricity". In many places in the world, electricity still = coal and/or nuclear.

So therefore, complicated background = more electricity = problems for old computers = excess consumption of resources either by burning the electricity, or by continuing to purchase newer and better computers and micro-gadgets to keep up with the progress, thereby consigning our old computers to chinese scrap yards where whole families dismantle them with their bare hands.

Seriously. If you don't believe me, watch the Edward Burtynsky film "Manufactured Landscapes" where he shows this. Chinese people taking apart old computers with their bare hands, trying to save mercury and copper and stuff for re-use.

So my point is we all need to start consuming less:

Less electricity.

Less oil.

Less plastic.

Less food even, dare I say it.

Less coffee.

Less sugar.

All of this is necessary for our survival as a species, and for the well-being of our fellow humans and animals around the globe, each of whom has as much right to be here as us.

I have been reading lots of AlfA blog lately, and I realize we've all been working for years at stuff, and we're all young but coming to be on top of our games in various ways, whatever our games may be. Whether our game is music, art-making, learning, earning, caring, doing, whatever it is, all of us are doing stuff. And we're all pretty good at it, and it's rewarding us all, whether financially or otherwise.

So this is then an invitation, I suppose. Or a question. What are we going to do with all of this material and non-material wealth we have been given? What am I going to do?

04 August 2010

Book part 7

But let's back up to yesterday afternoon, one p.m. or so, Day Four, Adam planting along there in the rain and right now he hates it. It's awful. He's miserable, and wishing that anything, anything at all would happen to get him out of here. And again, as always, the same thought that, if he's out of here, where would he go? And then, again, as always, the counter-thought that said I don't care, I'll figure something out, just get me the fuck out of here, please just somehow get me out of here.

Rain. He tries to plant a tree. It doesn't work. He tries again and not surprisingly, it doesn't work again. His mind wanders as he pokes for spots with his shovel. He's nine years old and playing hockey, his one and only experience, ever, in any kind of organized sports. He knows he doesn't quite fit in. For one thing, he doesn't even really like hockey, but some of the other kids don't as well. So it's not just that. It's mostly about money. He's one of only a couple of kids on the team who lives in West Broadway, while most of the kids he plays with live in Wolseley, a significantly more upscale nieghborhood than his, or else they live across the river in the big mansions on Academy and on Wellington, the real old-money neighborhoods of Winnipeg.

Most of the other kids don't come from poor, single-parent families like he does. Their parents are lawyers, and serve on the boards of symphonies and art magazines. So there's that, too, plus the fact that their skates are new and shiny, sleek molded black plastic, while his are old leather hand-me-downs, and look like they belong in a museum.

He remembers that first practice, a few of the rich kids standing there on the ice whispering to each other, snickering at his crappy old skates, the way groups form, the fearful in-clustering that happens against some perceived and outside threat.

But he's been practicing the last few weeks, and practicing hard, even though he's hopeless at sports. He's been there, alone at nights on the outdoor rink at the end of Lipton Street, by the river with all the lights turned off, just him skating around in the godlike and forever darkness of a Winnipeg winter night, shooting a puck at an empty net over and over, trying to get better at this. Not sure why he has to, just knowing that he feels like he should.

Cut now to a game now, and it's a yellow-brilliant white-blue day, the kind of day that only a northern winter can produce, the air so bright and so cold that it seems to sparkle and snap there in the sunlight. He's squinting through his glasses and tottering along the ice now, trying to think of what he was practicing all those dark nights on the rink. Parents hang over the boards yelling encouragement and clutching jumbo coffees in their mittened hands, the referee is lean and striped on his skates, the action is far down the ice but Adam is hurrying to catch up to it, trying, when suddenly it changes direction and zips past him in a blur of green jerseys and a blur black jerseys, all of them going the other way.

He follows the play to the corner, catches up to it and he's mad, and doesn't quite know why. He pushes another kid, a smaller kid, just because he's mad. Later, even years later when he thought about it still, he feels worse about that than he does about his rather poor showing in sports.

But it's raining again. He's back on the clear-cut. He pokes the ground with his shovel, tires to get a tree in, and it doesn't quite work. He pokes the ground with his shovel again, looks up the hill at the far-away forest, at the clouds, at forever the clouds, and he sighs.

Later that same day and his mind wanders across old TV commercials again, forgotten songs, and then he remembers visiting his mom at work, just around the corner from their place on Cornish Avenue. It's a small local deli where they served sandwiches and pickles and beer in big, cheap pitchers, where there was never any shortage of regulars to drink during the day and to drink during the night. Different crowds, though--the day crowd is a bit older, sadder--unemployed people in threadbare Salvation Army clothes, drinking beer in mis-matching coffee cups. The night-time crowd is younger, more hip, Salvation Army clothing too, but wannabe revolutionaries with Che Guevara t-shirts and army jackets and small green hats with a red commie star pin. But there he is with his sister, visiting his mom at work, on a sunny fall afternoon and he's ten here, maybe, or eleven, which would make his sister seven.

She's mopping the floor when they come in. Three old ladies in white sit in the corner knitting. Silently. Two old men, also silent, each sit at their own tables, each of them alone, not talking to each other, drinking beer. The boss is angry at Adam's mom for some reason, he can't remember why now, and as Adam walks in the door, he's yelling at her that he'll just have to find someone else and see how she likes that. She's apologizing as she mops. Sorry, she says, sorry, sorry.

They see Adam and the boss stops, breaks off, shakes his head, then adds I'm serious Nelly. I know, she says. He picks up some empty cases of beers and walks downstairs, while she brushes a strand of her hair off her face, smiles at them.

Hello my little Prince and Princess, she says, but without much conviction this time, something a bit sad and defeated about it, her eyes with that flatness about them, but hugs the kids anyway and sits them at a table looking out the window. She gives them a coke and some fries to share and they eat them with ketchup, dipping them and chewing slowly, thoughtfully, looking outside while their mom finishes mopping.

The three women in the corner with their pots of tea are still silent, still knitting. They look over towards the kids, needle-hands still turning the wool, still turning. They're beautiful, one of the old women says, almost silently, to the other two.

They will suffer so much, the second woman says, even more silently.

But life will repay them, the third says. It will give back to them for all it takes. And they nod, the three, continue knitting, near-blind eyes turned outward to the sunlight past the children's heads.

Adam, Chloe and their mother leave the deli together, out then in the burgundy-fall day and she takes their hands and they walk on in silence. Orange and yellow leaves are scattered along the banks of the Assiniboine just past their place at the end of Cornish now, and as they stroll along quietly it feels like a Neil Young song should be playing over this whole scene, Helpless or something, some kind of song about a small northern city, a place where the winters were so cold and the summers so heart-breakingly short, a place where things could bloom so briefly into life-full colour and then turn grey again, become dust.
You're pretty, mom, Chloe says.
So are you, Princess, their mom says.

Rain on the clear-cut again and Nelly, Adam thought. Her name was Lillian, and all her life that's what everyone called her. Only the people here at the deli, and the boss, especially, called her Nelly for some reason.
Weird, Adam thinks now all these years later in the rain, his thoughts still wandering.
Weird. Why Nelly?

03 August 2010

she sang
my heart on fire
rumours of murder drowned out by
our footsteps metronome on the pavement
to bathurst
admist conversations of the muse

and really she hasn't gone anywhere
except to rest from 300,000 meals
she's prepared

hot feasts

In the land of Hardy, but reminded of Laxness

Corfe Castle over the cemetery

This was the first time that he has ever looked into the labyrinth of the human soul. He was very far from understanding what he saw. But what was of more value, he felt and suffered with her. In years that were yet to come, he relived this memory in song, in the most beautiful song this world has known. For the understanding of the soul's defencelessness, of the conflict between the two poles, is not the source of the greatest song. The source of the greatest song is sympathy. (Halldór Laxness)

land and sea and sky

Whoever doesn't live in poetry cannot survive here on earth. (Halldór Laxness)