Girlfrield in a Coma by Douglas Coupland
Harper Perennial | Paperback, 304 pages
Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars
On a snowy Friday night in 1979, just hours after making love for the first time, Richard’s girlfriend, high school senior Karen Ann McNeil, falls into a coma. Nine months later she gives birth to their daughter, Megan. As Karen sleeps through the next seventeen years, Richard and their circle of friends reside in an emotional purgatory, passing through a variety of careers—modeling, film special effects, medicine, demolition—before finally reuniting on a conspiracy-driven super-natural television series. But real life grows as surreal as their TV show as Richard and his friends await Karen’s reawakening . . . and the subsequent apocalypse.
This prolific Canadian novelist is well known not only for his words but for his artistic ventures as well. I’ve ignored his novels for far too long but I’m glad that I finally cave.
While this book didn’t necessarily wow me, it’s easy to see why he’s been such a beloved author. If there’s anything I could glean off his style of writing, it’s his propensity to awe. This novel, however, completely flipped a switch towards the second half that left me furrowing my brows in confusion, as it veered in the direction of the deep end.
Girlfriend in a Coma started out as an un-put-downable read; the ending, though, got a little out of whack for me. And I don’t know why I’m surprised to be honest, since the synopsis already hinted on what was to happen after the girlfriend woke up. Surreal is a bit of an understatement to describe how it all played out. And then it got “preachy”, convenient and just plain…weird.
This book had a very interesting beginning: Karen (the girlfriend) had just given her virginity to her boyfriend on the same night that she goes into a coma. A combination of valium, a couple of sips of alcohol on an empty stomach did her in. The odd thing about it was that she seemed to have an inkling of what was to happen. She had visions and dreams of the future. Anyway, weeks after she fell asleep, the doctors found out she’s pregnant. She carried the baby full-term and gave birth via C-section. Years go by; the world around her continued to revolve while the boyfriend never did move on. The whole time she was in a coma, Richard went about his business without really pursuing any real relationships. He reluctantly assumed the “father in the background” role to their daughter, had careers, became an alcoholic – seemingly biding his time until Karen woke up from her deep slumber.
There is a multitude of characters here with stories of their own. But the main focus was about Karen and Richard. In the seventeen years that Karen was in a coma, she was like a background music in everybody’s lives; or like one of those ginormous elephant that followed them around. If there’s one thing they all had in common (besides Karen, that is) was how unhappy they’ve all become. Their lives didn’t turn out as great as they’d hoped. But in the end, whatever pursuits they set their minds to would all lead them to the inevitable end that, interestingly enough, was just a crossroad they all had to embark on.
The second-half of the book dealt with sleeping beauty waking up. And this is when things got weird. Basically, her waking up became the catalyst for the apocalypse. Don’t ask me how because to be honest, all the BS about the meaning of life is somehow related to Karen. People started dropping off the face of the earth, and I mean that literally. They all fall asleep – all except for Karen, Richard, Megan (daughter), and their friends. The longer I sit here and try to compose this review, the more I’m coming to realize how ridiculous the whole thing was. If I’d care enough to figure it all out, I’d have paid more attention to all the mumbo-jumbo that was spewed by a resurrected Jared (one of their friends who died of cancer pre-coma). It’s really unfortunate that I couldn’t give two shits about all the whys and hows and the answer to the question I’d asked Siri so many times (what is the meaning of life?).
In any case, this book is something that you could probably read in one sitting. But the switching of genres (contemporary fiction to paranormal) just didn’t work for me.