Douglas Coupland – Player One: What is to Become of Us, A Novel in Five Hours (CBC Massey Lectures), House of Anansi Press Inc.
Player One represents Douglas Coupland’s unnerving and thoughtful dissection of the ideas of time, memory, storytelling, religion, death, and individualism, a supposition about life after a catastrophic event that effectively ends the current state of affairs on earth. Four (five?) characters trapped in an airport lounge explore personal meaning and identity in the world that was, and ponder a frightening and changed future. Karen is a divorced mother of a young teenaged daughter, re-entering the dating scene via an online singles website. Luke is a church pastor and a thief, suddenly losing his religion. Rick is a long-suffering bartender and alcoholic, seeking inspiration and meaning to a life bereft of a loving relationship. Rachel has issues with human contact (and much else), but is determined to find a mate despite her condition. And then there is Player One, a virtual voice that can “see” the future, and links the narratives of all the other characters. As usual with Coupland, dialogue is everything: his population sample don’t do as much as speak, each person exposing their newly-shattered and freshly-constructed beliefs. Concepts of history and story are pivotal to the novel, with each denizen of the airport lounge reflecting upon their roles in a world where individualism no longer exists, where the concepts of religion and souls and the afterlife are corrupted and inconceivable. It’s an essay masquerading as fiction, exposing all of the guts of our (specifically North American?) society’s isolation and addictions, conceits and constructs. We’re headed for (or are already sitting in) that airport lounge, Coupland seems to be warning, that sort of dead zone cozied up next to the gift shop, where what we think makes us human really isn’t humanizing at all. Perhaps we shouldn’t even get on that plane…but I think we’ve already, collectively, bought tickets.
Oh yeah, and the “Future Legend” at the back of the book is at once spooky, accurate, and hilarious. Don’t skip it, it’s vital to the story.
Coupland wrote Player One as part of The Massey Lectures series sponsored by CBC Radio, House of Anansi Press and Massey College (University of Toronto). It was broadcast on CBC Radio in November of 2010. I was hoping that CBC Radio would offer an archived podcast without charge, but alas, you have to purchase it on iTunes. Still, it’s worth it to either give it a listen or get your hands on the book. It’s an important read.