The author of novels such as Microserfs, Girlfriend in a Coma and Eleanor Rigby is back with his latest literary creation Worst. Person. Ever. I made note of those three previous novels because they are my personal favourites. That is not to suggest all of his novels are not as good; it’s just that I find those in particular to be his most fascinating and the ones I feel perfectly reflect Coupland’s distinct writing style. His even pacing, tremendous gift for description and ability to artfully contextualise and reflect on aspects of pop culture has always impressed me. He is one of my favourite authors because I have honestly always thought his writing style was written for *my* brain. I guess that is why this review is so difficult for me to write… because, well, Worst. Person. Ever. (W.P.E.) is not a very good book.
Maybe my disappointment in W.P.E. stems from the fact that I am a long-time fan… or maybe W.P.E. is just not up to Coupland’s standard. The novel tells the story of, well, obviously, the worst person ever, and this lovely person is named Raymond Gunt. Oh, hey, Mr. Coupland! I see what you did there with that last name. Clever. Anyway, Gunt is currently down and out. He is a B-level cameraman, has virtually no employment prospects, and his love life is non-existent (he’s exceedingly charming; it’s the women who have the problem). His horrible ex-wife Fiona beckons him to her office for what turns out to be a business meeting. She offers him a job on an American reality show called Survival but not because she actually wants to help him… She just wants to distance herself from his tainted name. Despite her successful career, Fiona has concerns that said success will forever be overshadowed by her connection to Raymond, especially if he is still in the same country, so she sends him off to the Island of Kiribati where the show will be filmed. Raymond’s ability to get to Kiribati is where all the “chaos” occurs and the “chaos” is neither interesting nor entertaining.
Raymond is Coupland’s version of the worst person ever and possesses qualities that would probably be considered terrible by the majority of us. Ray is rude, dismissive, misogynistic, self-centred and also annoyingly whiny. He thinks he’s assertive, but he’s beyond passive aggressive. Yes, while these characteristics are rather annoying, they do not make him the worst person ever. They just make him an ass.
What is frustrating about this novel is that in Coupland’s attempts to make Ray the worst, he has to employ fantastical scenarios that are unlikely to ever occur even if one is the worst person in the world. The author makes anyone who interacts with Ray just as terrible as the main character, even though Ray’s behaviour in some of these situations is not even that awful. For example, Ray’s first interaction with an airport waitress, Lacey, is a bit jerky but nothing to write home about. However, the next time Ray encounters Lacey, she is apparently still brimming with so much resentment over their last interaction together that she has him taken away by airport security. She actually tells him she’s doing this because he didn’t tip her last time, and this is her ‘revenge’. Okay, that makes complete sense.
Now, it’s not as though I have high tolerance for terrible people and therefore think Ray’s “not that bad”; it’s that the things Ray does are either 1) rather tame, and the reaction to his behaviour is a bit over the top, or 2) so awful, I think he may be a sociopath. Coupland never truly decides what Ray is, ultimately detracting from the author’s version of the ‘worst person ever’. When we encounter someone so awful in real life, we try to distance ourselves from them; we don’t exact revenge on them or seek out new ways to torture them. I understand that we are not supposed to necessarily care about Ray, but shouldn’t there be someone or something we do care about in this book? I am unsure of what Coupland thinks is going on with today’s society, but I can assure him it’s not what he has detailed in his newest novel.
I’m not saying don’t read the book. If you are a Douglas Coupland fan, or if the synopsis tickles your fancy, give it a whirl. I just feel that his depiction of the ‘worst person ever’ could not actually be contained in one person, so the end result is a book filled with hateful characters in unrealistic, and thus uninteresting, situations.