The first time I was exposed to JPod was funnily enough through a television series in Canada that was based on the book. The production of the television series was Canadian, probably because of the fact that Douglas Coupland is Canadian, so I doubt any of my readers not from Canada would have heard of or seen the television series. I thought the series was very humourous, albeit a bit bizarre and I was interested in seeing how the book stacked up against the series.
Of course the book was much more different, but much better, as is usually the case. The story is about Ethan Jarlewski and his co-workers who work at a big game design company in Vancouver. The company is a big, bureaucratic mass, imposing more and more idiotic changes on their workload. Ethan and his co-workers try to keep themselves motivated and interested, but are not always successful at battling their despair at their bosses. They all exist in a moral grey zone, to which even Ethan’s parents are not immune – with sometime hilarious results.
Although the book is truly funny, it is also a very poignant commentary on society, where the lines between moral and immoral are constantly tested and blurred. Ethan’s world is invaded with the rise of China, the rise of marijuana grow-ups and corruption, and Coupland shows how those factors influence and change his life dramatically. Although the reader’s credulity is severely tested at times, Coupland spins such an amazing tale that the reader cannot but go along with it. You get so swept up in the story, that it all becomes plausible. You find yourself muttering: “I can’t believe that happened to him, poor guy,” rather than: “That would never happen in real life.”
For all the hilarity and bizarre events in the novel, the book definitely makes you think about our society and what we value nowadays. Coupland is a master at catching the reader unawares – just as you are heartily laughing at a passage in the book, he comes out with an unexpected punch that takes your breath away. He keeps you on your toes and sometimes in the dark, but at the end of it all, you feel richer for having read this book.
One funny part of the book I would like to share is that Coupland appears in the book himself. And not in a necessarily flattering way. A little excerpt from the book:
Coupland said, “…Tell you what, if I get you guys back to Shanghai, then you have to give me your laptop computer, period. No erasing anything.”
“That’s it, game boy. Give me your life.”
I looked into Coupland’s cold eyes; it was like looking into wells filled with drowned toddlers. “Okay, I promise.”
“Hop in. And remember this, Ethan. I own you now.“
We drove away.
(With apologies for the formatting, I have not figured out yet how to not get an extra space after hitting enter.)
I can definitely recommend JPod, as well as Microserfs and The Gum Thief, two other books I have read by him. If you like to be entertained while at the same time made to think critically about the world we live in, the way our society is and what we value most, then Douglas Coupland is your man.