All Families are Psychotic by Douglas CouplandAll Families are Psychotic by Douglas Coupland

All Families are Psychotic

byDouglas Coupland

Paperback | September 24, 2002

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about

Psychosis: any form of severe mental disorder in which the individual’s contact with reality becomes highly distorted.

Douglas Coupland, the author whom Tom Wolfe calls “one of the freshest, most exciting voices of the novel today,” delivers his tenth book in ten years of writing, with All Families Are Psychotic. Coupland recently has been compared to Jack Kerouac and F. Scott Fitzgerald, yet he is a man firmly grounded in the current era. The novel is a sizzling and sharp-witted entertainment that resounds with eternal human yearnings.

In the opening pages, 65-year-old Janet Drummond checks the clock in her cheap motel room near Cape Canaveral, takes her prescription pills and does a rapid tally of the whereabouts of her three children: Wade, the eldest, in and out of jail and still radiating ”the glint”; suicidal Bryan, whose girlfriend, the vowel-free Shw, is pregnant; and Sarah, the family’s shining light, an astronaut preparing to be launched into space as the star of a shuttle mission. They will all arrive in Orlando today – along with Janet’s ex-husband Ted and his new trophy wife – setting the stage for the most disastrous family reunion in the history of fiction. Florida may never recover from their version of fun in the sun.

The last time the family got together, there was gunplay and an ensuing series of HIV infections. Now, what should be a celebration turns instead into a series of mishaps and complications that place the family members in constant peril. When the reformed Wade attempts to help his dad out of a financial jam and pay off his own bills at the fertility clinic, his plan spins quickly out of control. Adultery, hostage-taking, a letter purloined from Princess Diana’s coffin, heart attacks at Disney World, bankruptcy, addiction and black-market negotiations – Coupland piles on one deft, comic plot twist after another, leaving you reaching for your seat belt. When the crash comes, it is surprisingly sweet.

Janet contemplates her family, and where it all went wrong. “People are pretty forgiving when it comes to other people's family. The only family that ever horrifies you is your own.” During the writing, Coupland described the book as being about “the horrible things that families do to each other and how it makes them strong.” He commented: “Families who are really good to each other, I’ve noticed, tend to dissipate, so I wonder how awful a family would have to be to stick together.”

Coupland’s first novel, Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture, became a cultural phenomenon, affixing a buzzword and a vocabulary to a generation and going on to sell over a million copies. The novels that followed were all bestsellers, and his work has continued to show a fascination with the digital, brand-conscious, media-dense culture of contemporary North American society, leading some to peg him as “an up-to-the-minute cultural reference engine.” Meanwhile, his deeper interests in how human beings function in this spiritual vacuum have become increasingly apparent. For example, the character Wade contemplates his father: “What would the world have to offer Ted Drummond, and the men like him, a man whose usefulness to the culture had vanished somewhere around the time of Windows 95? Golf? Gold? Twenty-four hour stock readouts?” Janet, on the other hand, nears a kind of peace with life: “Time erases both the best and the worst of us.” All Families Are Psychotic shows Coupland being just as concerned for the grown-ups as for the kids.
Douglas Coupland was born on a Canadian NATO base in Baden-Söllingen, Germany, on December 30, 1961, the third of four boys. When Douglas was four, his family moved to West Vancouver, where he returned to live after years of travelling. “I spent my twenties scouring the globe thinking there had to be a better city out there, until it d...

interview with the author

1) How did you become a writer?

The older I get, the more I wonder. I used to think it was by accident, but now I don’t. In one sense it was because nobody in my life would listen to me, and if I didn’t communicate with somebody, anybody, I would go mad. I think this is still the case. Sure, in 2001 I know people will listen to me, but I think the early damage has been done. I still only feel I’m communicating when I’m writing.

2) What inspired you to write this particular book?

A very large and strange transformation took over my own family two years ago with the birth of my niece, who arrived with no left hand. Sounds simple enough, but the effect was deep and ongoing and in many senses turned my family inside out, like sleeping bags, letting us shake out the dust and bedbugs and let the sun do some healing. The family situation was aggravated by a spike in birth defects in the part of Vancouver where we live. Hence the title of the show [Coupland’s art show Spike]. The spike made the papers, and the spike was definitely there, but in the end there was insufficient energy, will and know-how on the part of the local medical authorities to ferret out the reason for this spike. There was no Erin Brockovich.

All Families are Psychotic was one way of trying to accept this situation and reconcile the fate of my family – and everyone’s family – to those forces out there in the world that can scramble us at any moment. One character in the book, the daughter, Sarah, is missing a hand, but in her case, the cause was thalidomide in the year 1960 – a dreadful morning sickness drug that haunted Canadian mothers for years. Everyone else in the book has the same number of quirks and problems as any one else’s family – yours, even.

Writing isn’t therapy – it’s a way in which we as humans can make sense of, and come to grips with, our experiences, of taking something intensely personal and rendering it universal.

3) What is it that you’re exploring in this book?

If the book has any moral, it’s that in the end, I think we love each other just as much for what we are as for what we aren’t. That’s certainly been the big switch in my mind the past few years. Oh, what a release it was when I reached that conclusion – this load was released from my shoulders and it felt almost Biblical!

4) Who is your favourite character in this book, and why?

Janet Drummond – the 64-year old family matriarch who had thought she was of no familial or social value, and who ends up being very much the core of her family and the social circle around her. She thinks her life is over, and just then it becomes fantastically interesting.

5) Are there any tips you would give a book club to better navigate their discussion of your book?

Hang in there for the first bit. You have no idea what’s going to happen. Trust me. That’s true of life, too.

6) Do you have a favourite story to tell about being interviewed about your book?

This book in particular? No – not really. It’s too soon in its life cycle. But I have a thousand other stories about other books.

7) What question are you never asked in interviews but wish you were?

I’ve been asked everything. I think. Wait – I know — people ask me how ”success” has changed me, and truth be told, it hasn’t. I’m maybe a bit more practical and wary of being used, and wary of sleazeballs who cruise the waters of intellectual property. But that’s it. But nobody ever asks how it’s changed the people around me. It really has changed them, and for years at a time, and mostly not for the better. It took about seven years for the people in my life to stop being so weird about everything. That was a long and lonely seven years.

8) Has a review or profile ever changed your perspective on your work?

I had the fortune and misfortune of never being edited for the first two-thirds of my career. I was indulged and encouraged to pioneer new forms – which is really the biggest gift you can have as writer. But after a point I got tired of making mistakes I didn’t even know how to identify. I’m a voracious reader, and when I write I simply try to write what I’d want to read myself. There was no distance for me. I’ve really had to “put myself through Harvard” the past four years, and have made huge qualitative and structural leaps in my work. But was this triggered by any one specific review or profile? No. I don’t read them – can’t read them – even when they’re over-the-moon great. But I can certainly pick up the background radiation of what they’re saying. People tell me. And for what it’s worth, people can be quite mean when they pretend to be nice. I was on the cover of Time and not one person phoned or e-mailed. Not one. But when a snippy bit of nothing, untrue gossip appears in a paper 3,000 miles away, my e-mail and phone go nuts. It’s human nature, but come on people – like I don’t notice this?

9) Which authors have been most influential to your own writing?

Truman Capote
Nancy Mitford
Richard Ford
John O’Hara
Margaret Drabble
Kurt Vonnegut
Anita Brookner
Carol Shields
Jenny Holzer (she’s an artist who works with text)
Joan Didion
David Lodge

10) If you weren’t writing, what would you want to be doing for a living? What are some of your other passions in life?

Scultpure. Not even a moment’s doubt there.

11) If you could have written one book in history, what book would that be?

It would be presumptuous of me to answer this.
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Title:All Families are PsychoticFormat:PaperbackDimensions:288 pages, 8 × 5.21 × 0.71 inPublished:September 24, 2002Publisher:Random House of CanadaLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0679311831

ISBN - 13:9780679311836

Reviews

Rated 5 out of 5 by from Brilliant Craziness This is probably one of the most bizarre and insane family dramas I have ever read. I could not stop laughing for a second. Some of the scenarios, of course, were just far to ridiculous to be believed, but you never know there are some crazy people out there. This book made me so grateful to my own family for basically not being this family... and it made me grateful to Coupland because he supplied many a laugh during my long commutes to and from work
Date published: 2017-09-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Quirky Not your typical family. The overall easy tone of the book makes it a fun and easy read.
Date published: 2017-09-09
Rated 4 out of 5 by from The ttle says it all. This is perhaps Coupland's funniest books. The title "All Families are Psychotic" made me wonder the book was fiction or non-fiction, after all we have crazy families! The family describes itself as an A-List family and many would agree. There are more skeletons in the closet than in the cemetery. The over all force is mitigated by a weak ending, but it is humourous. Canadians know how to laugh at themselves and there culture.
Date published: 2017-05-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Loved it! So unique and funny, this book was a trip.
Date published: 2017-03-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Amazing! This was the first book I read by Douglas Coupland and I have been a fan ever since. The relationships between the characters are real and it made me realize that all families really are psychotic.
Date published: 2017-01-10
Rated 2 out of 5 by from A bit trashy This is the first Coupland book I have read and I found it a little over the top.
Date published: 2008-08-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Psychotic is right I absolutely love how Coupland writes his characters. They are all very memorable, and usually very hilarious. All Families Are Psychotic is just that- the life and times of a family of "colourful" people. A mother and son with the same disease, an angry, crazy father, an astronaut for a daughter with a deformity, and the list goes on. How can you not want to read about this family after all of that? The ending wasn't going where I thought it would; and by that I mean, I didn't' think that it would have this much feeling and meaning.
Date published: 2008-08-08
Rated 3 out of 5 by from All Families are Psychotic This book reminds me a little bit of Little Miss Sunshine in the sense of its quirky characters and outlandish situations. I think it would work really well as a movie, but as a book it needs more. The story kind of jumps back and forth between various time periods and situations, and I never really got absorbed in everything that was happening. On the plus side, there were some really good laugh-out-loud moments, as well as some deeper insight into the characters about half way through. All in all, the book is worth reading; it just seems a little contrived compared to other Coupland books.
Date published: 2008-08-01
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Typical Coupland--Hilarious! This book tells the tale of a dysfunctional family on vacation. This book will keep you turning the pages. As the characters recount past events you cant help but feel for them. The present predicament the family finds themselves in is very twisted and quite comical. A great read!
Date published: 2008-01-21
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Five years worth of soap opera plot lines in... All the crazy outrageousness of a daytime drama with none of the sappiness. You're not quite sure how to feel about this family. Just when you think it can't get anymore bizzare, it does
Date published: 2006-06-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from My favorite Coupland! This is Coupland's best book. I've read all of his titles and loved this one the most. I'm drawn to tales of dysfunctional families so I have to admit that I am a little biased. It is a great story with all the classic Coupland twists. The ending, while bizarre, is great! Not that all books should be made into movies - in fact most are ruined when they are - this would make a great movie. Hire Quentin or someone like that and it would be a great time at the theatre.
Date published: 2006-05-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Must Read! Douglas Coupland's All Families are Psychotic is phenomenal. An excellent story which truly displays his talent an author. Any post modernism fan must read this book! One warning though. Start this book when you have plenty of free time ahead of you because once you start you won't want to stop!
Date published: 2004-02-23

Read from the Book

Chapter One Janet opened her eyes — Florida's prehistoric glare dazzled outside the motel window. A dog barked; a car honked; a man was singing a snatch of a Spanish song. She absentmindedly touched the scar from the bullet wound beneath her left rib cage, a scar that had healed over, bumpy and formless and hard, like a piece of gum stuck beneath a tabletop. She hadn't expected her flesh to have healed so blandly — What was I expecting, a scar shaped like an American flag? Janet's forehead flushed: My children — where are they? She did a rapid-fire tally of the whereabouts of her three children, a ritual she'd enacted daily since the birth of Wade back in 1958. Once she'd mentally placed her offspring in their geographic slots, she remembered to breathe: They're all going to be here in Orlando today. She looked at the motel's bedside clock: 7:03 A.M. Pill o'clock. She took two capsules from her prescription pill caddie and swallowed them with tap water gone flat overnight, which now tasted like nickels and pennies. It registered on her that motel rooms now came equipped with coffee makers. What a sensible idea, so bloody sensible — why didn't they do this years ago? Why is all the good stuff happening now? A few days back, on the phone, her daughter, Sarah, had said, `Mom, at least buy Evian, OK? The tap water in that heap is probably laced with crack. I can't believe you chose to stay there.' `But dear, I don't mind it here.' `Go stay at the Peabody with the rest of the family. I've told you a hundred times I'll pay.' `That's not the point, dear. A hotel really ought not cost more than this.' `Mom, NASA cuts deals with the hotels, and ...' Sarah made a puff of air, acknowledging defeat. `Forget it. But I think you're too well off to be pulling your Third World routine.' Sarah — so cavalier with money! — as were the two others. None had known poverty, and they'd never known war, but the advantage hadn't made them golden, and Janet had never gotten over this fact. A life of abundance had turned her two boys into an element other than gold — lead? — silicon? — bismuth? But then Sarah — Sarah was an element finer than gold — carbon crystallized as diamond — a bolt of lightning frozen in midflash, sliced into strips, and stored in a vault. Janet's phone rang and she answered it: Wade, calling from an Orange County lock-up facility. Janet imagined Wade in a drab concrete hallway, unshaven and disheveled, yet still radiating `the glint' — the spark in the eye he'd inherited from his father. Bryan didn't have it and Sarah didn't need it, but Wade had glinted his way through life, and maybe it hadn't been the best attribute to inherit after all. Wade: Janet remembered being back home, and driving along Marine Drive in the morning, watching a certain type of man waiting for a bus to take him downtown. He'd be slightly seedy and one or two notches short of respectability; it was always patently clear he'd lost his driver's license after a DWI, but this only made him more interesting, and whenever Janet smiled at one of these men from her car, they fired a smile right back. And that was Wade and, in some unflossed cranny of her memory, her ex-husband, Ted. `Dear, aren't you too old to be calling me from — jail? Even saying the word "jail" feels silly.' `Mom, I don't do bad stuff any more. This was a fluke.' `Okay then, what happened — did you accidentally drive a busload of Girl Guides into the Everglades?' `It was a bar brawl, Mom.' Janet repeated this: `A bar brawl.' `I know, I know — you think I don't know how idiotic that sounds? I'm phoning because I need a ride away from this dump. My rental car's back at the bar.' `Where's Beth? Why doesn't she drive you?' `She gets in early this afternoon.' `OK. Well, let's go back a step, dear. How exactly does one get into a bar brawl?' `You wouldn't believe me if I told you.' `You'd be amazed what I'm believing these days. Try me.' There was a pause on the other end. `I got in a fight because this guy — this jerk — was making fun of God.' `God.' He can't be serious. `Yeah, well, he was.' `In what way?' `He was being so nasty about it, saying, "God's an asshole," and "God doesn't care about squat," and he kept on going on and on, and I had to put a stop to it. I think he got fired that day.' `You were defending God's honor?' `Yeah. I was.' Tread carefully here, Janet. `Wade, I know Beth is very religious. Are you becoming religious, too?' `Me? Maybe. Nah. Yes. No. It depends on how you define religious. It keeps Beth calm, and maybe ...' Wade paused. `Maybe it can calm me, too.' `So you spent the night in jail, then?' `Safely in the arms of a four-hundred-pound convenience store thief named Bubba.' `Wade, I can't pick you up. I think it's going to be one of those no-energy days. And besides, the car I rented smells like a carpet in a frat house — and the roads down here, they're white, and the glare makes me sleepy.' `Mom, come on ...' `Don't be such a baby. You're forty-two. Act it. You couldn't even get to the hotel in time yesterday.' `I was making a quick detour to visit a friend in Tampa. I stopped for a drink. Hey — don't treat me like I'm Bryan. It wasn't like I started the fight or ...' `Stop! Stop right there. Call a cab.' `I'm short on cash.' `Simple cab fare? Then how are you paying for the hotel?' Wade was silent. `Wade?' `Sarah's covering it for us until we can pay it back.' An awkward silence followed. `Mom, you could pick me up if you really wanted to. I know you could.' `Yes, I suppose I could. But I think you should phone your father down in ... what's that place called?' `Kissimmee — and I already did call him.' `And?' `He's gone marlin fishing with Nickie.' `Marlin fishing? People still do that?' `I don't know. I guess. I thought they were extinct. They probably have a guy in a wet suit who attaches a big plastic marlin onto their line.' `Marlins are so ugly. They remind me of basement rec rooms that people built in 1958 and never used again.' `I know. It's hard to imagine they ever existed in the first place.' `So he's out marlin fishing with Nickie then?' `Yeah. With Nickie.' `That cheesy slut.' `Mom?' `Wade, I'm not a saint. I've been holding stuff inside me for decades — girls my age were trained to do that, and it's why we all have colitis. Besides, a dash of spicy language is refreshing every so often. Just yesterday I was hunting for information on vitamin D derivatives on the Internet, and suddenly, doink! I land in the Anal Love website. I'm looking at a cheerleader in a leather harness on the —' `Mom, how can you visit sites like that?' `Wade, may I remind you that you are standing in a human Dumpster somewhere in Orlando, yet hearing a sixty-five-year-old woman discuss the Internet over a pay phone shocks you? You wouldn't believe the sites I've visited. And the chat rooms, too. I'm not always Janet Drummond, you know.' `Mom, why are you telling me this?' `Oh, forget it. And your stepmother, Nickie, is still a cheesy slut. Phone Howie — maybe he can come fetch you.' `Howie's so boring he makes me almost pass out. I can't believe Sarah married such a blank.' `I'm the one who gave birth to her, and I'm the one who has to drive with him to Cape Canaveral today.' `Ooh — bummer. Another NASA do?' `Yes. And you're welcome to come along.' `Wait a second, Mom — why aren't you at the Peabody with everybody else? What are you staying in a motel for? By the way, it took thirty rings for the clerk — who, I might add, sounded like a kidney thief — to answer the phone.' `Wade, you're changing the subject. Phone Howie. Oh wait — I think I hear somebody at the door.' Janet held the phone at arm's length from her head, and said, `Knock knock knock knock.' `Very funny, Mom.' `I have to answer the door, Wade.' `That's really funny. I —' Click The motel room made her feel slightly too transient, but it was a bargain, and that turned the minuses into pluses. Nonetheless, Janet missed her morning waking-up rituals in her own bedroom. She touched her body gently and methodically, as though she were at the bank counting a stack of twenties. She gently rubbed a set of ulcers on her lips' insides, still there, same as the day before, not just a dream. Her hands probed further downward — no lumps in her breasts, not today — but then what had Sarah told her? We've all had cancer thousands of times, Mom, but in all those thousands of times your body removed it. It's lazy bookkeeping to only count the cancers that stick. You and I could have cancer right now, but tomorrow it might be gone. The motel room smelled like a lifetime of cigarettes. She looked at Sarah's photo in the Miami Herald beside the phone, a standard NASA PR crew photo: an upper body shot against a navy ice-cream swirl background and complexion-flattering lighting that made one suspect a noble, scientific disdain for cosmetics. Sarah clutched a helmet underneath her right arm. Her left arm, handless, rested by her side: Space knows no limitations. Janet sighed. She twiddled her toes. Ten minutes later her phone rang again: Sarah calling from the Cape. `Hi, Mom. I just spoke to Howie. He'll go pick up Wade.' `Good morning, Sarah. How's your day?' `This morning we had a zero-G evacuation test, but what I really wanted to do was sit in a nice quiet bathroom and test out a new brand of pore-cleansing strips. The humidity in these suits is giving me killer blackheads. They never talked about that in those old Life magazine photo essays. Have you eaten yet?' `No.' `Come eat at the Cape with me. We can have dehydrated astronaut's ice cream out of a shiny Mylar bag.' Janet sat up on her bed and pulled her legs over the side. She felt her skin — her meat — hanging from her bones as though it were so much water-logged clothing. She needed to pee. She began to meter her words as she eyed the bathroom door. `I don't think so, dear. The only time they ever allow me to have with you are three seconds for a photo op.' Sarah asked, `Is Beth arriving today?' Beth was Wade's wife. `Later this afternoon. I think I'm going to dinner with the two of them.' `How far along is she?' `I think this is her fourth month. It may even be a Christmas baby.' `Huh. I see.' `Something wrong, Sarah?' `It's just that —' `What?' `Mom, how could Wade marry ... her. She's so priggish and born-again. I always thought Wade would marry Miss Roller Derby. Beth is so frigging sanctimonious.' `She keeps him alive.' `I guess she does. When does Bryan arrive?' `He and his girlfriend are already here. He called from the Peabody.' `Girlfriend? Bryan? What's her name?' `If I tell you, you won't believe me.' `It can't be that bad. Is it one of those made-up names like DawnElle or Kerrissa or CindaJo?' `Worse.' `What could be worse?' `Shw.' `I beg your pardon?' `Shw. That's her name: Shw.' `Spell that for me.' `S. H. W.' `And?' `There's no vowel, if that's what you're waiting for.' `What — her name is Shw? Am I pronouncing that properly?' `I'm afraid so.' `That is the most ... impractical name I've ever heard. Is she from Sri Lanka or Finland or something?' Janet's eye lingered on the bathroom door and the toilet beyond. `As far as I know she's from Alberta. Bryan worships her, and she's also knocked up like a prom queen.' `Bryan's pregnant? How come I don't know any of this?' `I just met her last week myself, dear. She seems to rather like me, though she treats everybody else like dirt. So I don't mind her at all, really.' `Bryan is such a freak. I'm not going to be able to keep a straight face, you know — when she tells me her name, that is.' Janet said, `Shw!' Sarah giggled. `Shw! Shw! Shw!' Sarah laughed. `Is she pretty?' `Sort of. She's also about eighteen and an angry little hornet. In the fifties we would have called her a pixie. Nowadays we'd call her hyperthyroid. She's bug-eyed.' `Where'd they meet?' `Seattle. She helped Bryan set fire — I believe — to a stack of pastel-colored waffle-knit T-shirts in a Gap — back during the World Trade Organization riots. They were separated, then a few months ago they met again destroying a test facility growing genetically modified runner beans.' Janet could sense Sarah changing gears; she was finished discussing the family. Next would come business-like matters: `Well, good for Bryan. You're OK for today's NASA gig?' `Still.' `Howie will pick you up at 9:30, after he picks up my darling brother. By the way, Dad's broke.' `That doesn't surprise me. I'd heard he'd lost his job.' `I tried to loan him some money, but he, of course, said no. Not that there's much to loan. Howie lost the bulk of our savings in some website that sells products for pets. I could strangle him.' `Oh dear.' It's so easy to fall into the mother mode. `Tell me about it. Hey, when was the last time you even saw Dad?' `Half a year ago. By accident at Super-Valu.' `Tense?' `I can handle him.' `Good. See you there.' `Yes, dear.' Click On the walkway outside her room, Janet heard children mewling as they set off to Walt Disney World with their families. She walked to the bathroom across a floor made lunar from eons of cigarette burns and various stains better left uninvestigated. She thought of serial murderers using acids to dissolve the teeth and jawbones of their victims. She unsuspectingly caught sight of herself in a floor-length mirror by the sink and the sight stopped her cold. Yes, Janet, that's correct: you are shrinking — sinew by sinew, protein molecule by protein molecule you are turning into an ... an elf, yes, you, Janet Drummond, once voted `Girl We'd Rob a Bank For.' She was transfixed by the view of herself in a blue nightie, as if she were once again young and this image had been delivered to her from the future as a warning — If I squint I can still see the cool immaculate housewife I once dreamed of becoming. I'm Elizabeth Montgomery starring in Bewitched. I'm Dina Merrill lunching at the Museum of Modern Art with Christina Ford. Oh forget it. She peed, showered, dried and then modified those traces of time's passage on her face that she could. There. I'm not so bad after all. A man might still rob a bank for me, and men still do flirt — not too frequently — and older men perhaps — but the look in the eyes never changes. She dressed, and five minutes later she was a block away sitting in a Denny's reading a paper. The North American weather map on the rear page was a rich, unhealthy crimson, with only a small strip of cool green running up the coast from Seattle to Alaska. Outside the restaurant window the sun on the parking lot made the area seem like a science experiment. She realized she no longer cared about the weather. Next. Back in her motel room, she lay down on the bed haunted by a thousand sex acts. OK — this place is creepy but at least I'm not throwing away money. Her lips were sore to the point that speech was painful, and it hurt to exhale. Her pill buzzer buzzed; she sat up. She reached into her purse and removed a prescription bottle. She turned on the TV, and there was Sarah being interviewed on CNN. As always, her daughter looked glowingly pretty on TV, like a nun who'd never touched makeup. — Do you think you and children like you, born with damage caused by thalidomide, have other messages to tell the world? — Of course. We were the canaries in the coal mine. We were the first children born in which it was proved that chemicals from the outside world — in our case thalidomide — could severely damage the human embryo. These days, most mothers don't smoke or drink during pregnancy. They know that the outer world can enter their babies and cause damage. But in my mother's generation, they didn't know this. They smoked and drank and took any number of medications without thinking twice. Now we know better, and as a species we're smarter as a result — we're aware of teratogens. — Teratogens? — Yes. It means `monster forming'. A horrible word, but then the world can be a horrible place. They're the chemicals that cross the placenta and affect a child's growth in utero. The host turned to the camera: `Time for a quick break. I've been speaking with Sarah Drummond-Fournier, a one-handed woman, and one heck of a fighter, who'll be on Friday's shuttle flight. We'll be right back.' How on earth did I give birth to such a child? I understand nothing about her life. Nothing. And yet she's the spitting image of me, and she's gallivanting up into space. Janet remembered how much she'd wanted to help the young Sarah with her homework, and Sarah's polite-but-resigned invitations to come do so when Janet popped her head into Sarah's doorway. Invariably Janet would look down at the papers that might as well have been in Chinese. Janet would ask a few concerned questions about Sarah's teachers, and then plead kitchen duty, beating a hasty retreat. She turned off the TV. She once cared about everything, and if she couldn't muster genuine concern, she could easily fake it: too much rain stunting the petunias; her children's scrapes; stick figure Africans; the plight of marine mammals. She considered herself one of the surviving members of a lost generation, the last generation raised to care about appearances or doing the right thing — to care about caring. She had been born in 1934 in Toronto, a city then much like Chicago or Rochester or Detroit — bland, methodical, thrifty and rules-playing. Her father, William Truro, managed the furniture and household appliance department of the downtown Eaton's department store. William's wife, Kaye, was, well ... William's wife. The two raised Janet and her older brother, Gerald, on $29.50 a week until 1938, when a salary decrease lowered William's pay to $27 a week, and jam vanished from the Truro breakfast table, the absence of which became Janet's first memory. After the jam, the rest of Janet's life seemed to have been an ongoing reduction — things that had once been essential vanishing without discussion, or even worse, with too much discussion. Seasons changed. Sweaters became ragged, were patched up and became ragged again, and were grudgingly thrown out. A few flowers were grown in the thin band of dirt in front of the brick row house, species scavenged by Kaye for their value as dried flowers, which scrimped an extra few months' worth of utility from them. Life seemed to be entirely about scrimping. In fall of 1938, Gerald died of polio. In 1939 the war began and Canada was in it from the start, and scrimping kicked into overdrive: bacon fat, tin cans, rubber — all material objects — were scrimp-worthy. Janet's most enjoyable childhood memories were of sorting neighborhood trash in the alleys, in search of crown jewels, metal fragments and love notes from dying princes. During the war, houses in her neighborhood grew dingy — paint became a luxury. When she was six, Janet walked into the kitchen and found her father kissing her mother passionately. They saw Janet standing there, a small, chubby, fuddled Campbell's Soup kid, and they broke apart, blushed, and the incident was never spoken of again. The glimpse was her only evidence of passion until womanhood. An hour passed and Janet looked at the bedside clock: almost 9:30, and Howie would have already picked up Wade by now. Janet walked down to the hotel's covered breezeway to wait for her son-in-law. A day of boredom loomed. Then, pow! she was angry all of a sudden. She was angry because she was unable to remember and reexperience her life as a continuous movie-like event. There were only bits of punctuation here and there — the kiss, the jam, the dried flowers — which, when assembled, made Janet who she was — yet there seemed to be no divine logic behind the assemblage. Or any flow. All those bits were merely ... bits. But there had to be logic. How could the small, chubby child of 1940 imagine that one day she'd be in Florida seeing her own daughter launched into outer space? Tiny little Sarah, who was set to circle the Earth hundreds of times. We didn't even think about outer space in 1939. Space didn't exist yet. She removed a black felt Sharpie pen from her purse, and wrote the word `laryngitis' on a folded piece of paper. For the remainder of the day she wouldn't have to speak to anybody she didn't want to. I wonder if Howie is going to be late? No — Howie's not the late type. Excerpted from All Families are Psychotic by Douglas Coupland. Copyright © 2001 by Douglas Coupland. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Chapter One Janet opened her eyes — Florida's prehistoric glare dazzled outside the motel window. A dog barked; a car honked; a man was singing a snatch of a Spanish song. She absentmindedly touched the scar from the bullet wound beneath her left rib cage, a scar that had healed over, bumpy and formless and hard, like a piece of gum stuck beneath a tabletop. She hadn't expected her flesh to have healed so blandly — What was I expecting, a scar shaped like an American flag? Janet's forehead flushed: My children — where are they? She did a rapid-fire tally of the whereabouts of her three children, a ritual she'd enacted daily since the birth of Wade back in 1958. Once she'd mentally placed her offspring in their geographic slots, she remembered to breathe: They're all going to be here in Orlando today. She looked at the motel's bedside clock: 7:03 A.M. Pill o'clock. She took two capsules from her prescription pill caddie and swallowed them with tap water gone flat overnight, which now tasted like nickels and pennies. It registered on her that motel rooms now came equipped with coffee makers. What a sensible idea, so bloody sensible — why didn't they do this years ago? Why is all the good stuff happening now? A few days back, on the phone, her daughter, Sarah, had said, `Mom, at least buy Evian, OK? The tap water in that heap is probably laced with crack. I can't believe you chose to stay there.' `But dear, I don't mind it here.' `Go stay at the Peabody with the rest of the family. I've told you a hundred times I'll pay.' `That's not the point, dear. A hotel really ought not cost more than this.' `Mom, NASA cuts deals with the hotels, and ...' Sarah made a puff of air, acknowledging defeat. `Forget it. But I think you're too well off to be pulling your Third World routine.' Sarah — so cavalier with money! — as were the two others. None had known poverty, and they'd never known war, but the advantage hadn't made them golden, and Janet had never gotten over this fact. A life of abundance had turned her two boys into an element other than gold — lead? — silicon? — bismuth? But then Sarah — Sarah was an element finer than gold — carbon crystallized as diamond — a bolt of lightning frozen in midflash, sliced into strips, and stored in a vault. Janet's phone rang and she answered it: Wade, calling from an Orange County lock-up facility. Janet imagined Wade in a drab concrete hallway, unshaven and disheveled, yet still radiating `the glint' — the spark in the eye he'd inherited from his father. Bryan didn't have it and Sarah didn't need it, but Wade had glinted his way through life, and maybe it hadn't been the best attribute to inherit after all. Wade: Janet remembered being back home, and driving along Marine Drive in the morning, watching a certain type of man waiting for a bus to take him downtown. He'd be slightly seedy and one or two notches short of respectability; it was always patently clear he'd lost his driver's license after a DWI, but this only made him more interesting, and whenever Janet smiled at one of these men from her car, they fired a smile right back. And that was Wade and, in some unflossed cranny of her memory, her ex-husband, Ted. `Dear, aren't you too old to be calling me from — jail? Even saying the word "jail" feels silly.' `Mom, I don't do bad stuff any more. This was a fluke.' `Okay then, what happened — did you accidentally drive a busload of Girl Guides into the Everglades?' `It was a bar brawl, Mom.' Janet repeated this: `A bar brawl.' `I know, I know — you think I don't know how idiotic that sounds? I'm phoning because I need a ride away from this dump. My rental car's back at the bar.' `Where's Beth? Why doesn't she drive you?' `She gets in early this afternoon.' `OK. Well, let's go back a step, dear. How exactly does one get into a bar brawl?' `You wouldn't believe me if I told you.' `You'd be amazed what I'm believing these days. Try me.' There was a pause on the other end. `I got in a fight because this guy — this jerk — was making fun of God.' `God.' He can't be serious. `Yeah, well, he was.' `In what way?' `He was being so nasty about it, saying, "God's an asshole," and "God doesn't care about squat," and he kept on going on and on, and I had to put a stop to it. I think he got fired that day.' `You were defending God's honor?' `Yeah. I was.' Tread carefully here, Janet. `Wade, I know Beth is very religious. Are you becoming religious, too?' `Me? Maybe. Nah. Yes. No. It depends on how you define religious. It keeps Beth calm, and maybe ...' Wade paused. `Maybe it can calm me, too.' `So you spent the night in jail, then?' `Safely in the arms of a four-hundred-pound convenience store thief named Bubba.' `Wade, I can't pick you up. I think it's going to be one of those no-energy days. And besides, the car I rented smells like a carpet in a frat house — and the roads down here, they're white, and the glare makes me sleepy.' `Mom, come on ...' `Don't be such a baby. You're forty-two. Act it. You couldn't even get to the hotel in time yesterday.' `I was making a quick detour to visit a friend in Tampa. I stopped for a drink. Hey — don't treat me like I'm Bryan. It wasn't like I started the fight or ...' `Stop! Stop right there. Call a cab.' `I'm short on cash.' `Simple cab fare? Then how are you paying for the hotel?' Wade was silent. `Wade?' `Sarah's covering it for us until we can pay it back.' An awkward silence followed. `Mom, you could pick me up if you really wanted to. I know you could.' `Yes, I suppose I could. But I think you should phone your father down in ... what's that place called?' `Kissimmee — and I already did call him.' `And?' `He's gone marlin fishing with Nickie.' `Marlin fishing? People still do that?' `I don't know. I guess. I thought they were extinct. They probably have a guy in a wet suit who attaches a big plastic marlin onto their line.' `Marlins are so ugly. They remind me of basement rec rooms that people built in 1958 and never used again.' `I know. It's hard to imagine they ever existed in the first place.' `So he's out marlin fishing with Nickie then?' `Yeah. With Nickie.' `That cheesy slut.' `Mom?' `Wade, I'm not a saint. I've been holding stuff inside me for decades — girls my age were trained to do that, and it's why we all have colitis. Besides, a dash of spicy language is refreshing every so often. Just yesterday I was hunting for information on vitamin D derivatives on the Internet, and suddenly, doink! I land in the Anal Love website. I'm looking at a cheerleader in a leather harness on the —' `Mom, how can you visit sites like that?' `Wade, may I remind you that you are standing in a human Dumpster somewhere in Orlando, yet hearing a sixty-five-year-old woman discuss the Internet over a pay phone shocks you? You wouldn't believe the sites I've visited. And the chat rooms, too. I'm not always Janet Drummond, you know.' `Mom, why are you telling me this?' `Oh, forget it. And your stepmother, Nickie, is still a cheesy slut. Phone Howie — maybe he can come fetch you.' `Howie's so boring he makes me almost pass out. I can't believe Sarah married such a blank.' `I'm the one who gave birth to her, and I'm the one who has to drive with him to Cape Canaveral today.' `Ooh — bummer. Another NASA do?' `Yes. And you're welcome to come along.' `Wait a second, Mom — why aren't you at the Peabody with everybody else? What are you staying in a motel for? By the way, it took thirty rings for the clerk — who, I might add, sounded like a kidney thief — to answer the phone.' `Wade, you're changing the subject. Phone Howie. Oh wait — I think I hear somebody at the door.' Janet held the phone at arm's length from her head, and said, `Knock knock knock knock.' `Very funny, Mom.' `I have to answer the door, Wade.' `That's really funny. I —' Click The motel room made her feel slightly too transient, but it was a bargain, and that turned the minuses into pluses. Nonetheless, Janet missed her morning waking-up rituals in her own bedroom. She touched her body gently and methodically, as though she were at the bank counting a stack of twenties. She gently rubbed a set of ulcers on her lips' insides, still there, same as the day before, not just a dream. Her hands probed further downward — no lumps in her breasts, not today — but then what had Sarah told her? We've all had cancer thousands of times, Mom, but in all those thousands of times your body removed it. It's lazy bookkeeping to only count the cancers that stick. You and I could have cancer right now, but tomorrow it might be gone. The motel room smelled like a lifetime of cigarettes. She looked at Sarah's photo in the Miami Herald beside the phone, a standard NASA PR crew photo: an upper body shot against a navy ice-cream swirl background and complexion-flattering lighting that made one suspect a noble, scientific disdain for cosmetics. Sarah clutched a helmet underneath her right arm. Her left arm, handless, rested by her side: Space knows no limitations. Janet sighed. She twiddled her toes. Ten minutes later her phone rang again: Sarah calling from the Cape. `Hi, Mom. I just spoke to Howie. He'll go pick up Wade.' `Good morning, Sarah. How's your day?' `This morning we had a zero-G evacuation test, but what I really wanted to do was sit in a nice quiet bathroom and test out a new brand of pore-cleansing strips. The humidity in these suits is giving me killer blackheads. They never talked about that in those old Life magazine photo essays. Have you eaten yet?' `No.' `Come eat at the Cape with me. We can have dehydrated astronaut's ice cream out of a shiny Mylar bag.' Janet sat up on her bed and pulled her legs over the side. She felt her skin — her meat — hanging from her bones as though it were so much water-logged clothing. She needed to pee. She began to meter her words as she eyed the bathroom door. `I don't think so, dear. The only time they ever allow me to have with you are three seconds for a photo op.' Sarah asked, `Is Beth arriving today?' Beth was Wade's wife. `Later this afternoon. I think I'm going to dinner with the two of them.' `How far along is she?' `I think this is her fourth month. It may even be a Christmas baby.' `Huh. I see.' `Something wrong, Sarah?' `It's just that —' `What?' `Mom, how could Wade marry ... her. She's so priggish and born-again. I always thought Wade would marry Miss Roller Derby. Beth is so frigging sanctimonious.' `She keeps him alive.' `I guess she does. When does Bryan arrive?' `He and his girlfriend are already here. He called from the Peabody.' `Girlfriend? Bryan? What's her name?' `If I tell you, you won't believe me.' `It can't be that bad. Is it one of those made-up names like DawnElle or Kerrissa or CindaJo?' `Worse.' `What could be worse?' `Shw.' `I beg your pardon?' `Shw. That's her name: Shw.' `Spell that for me.' `S. H. W.' `And?' `There's no vowel, if that's what you're waiting for.' `What — her name is Shw? Am I pronouncing that properly?' `I'm afraid so.' `That is the most ... impractical name I've ever heard. Is she from Sri Lanka or Finland or something?' Janet's eye lingered on the bathroom door and the toilet beyond. `As far as I know she's from Alberta. Bryan worships her, and she's also knocked up like a prom queen.' `Bryan's pregnant? How come I don't know any of this?' `I just met her last week myself, dear. She seems to rather like me, though she treats everybody else like dirt. So I don't mind her at all, really.' `Bryan is such a freak. I'm not going to be able to keep a straight face, you know — when she tells me her name, that is.' Janet said, `Shw!' Sarah giggled. `Shw! Shw! Shw!' Sarah laughed. `Is she pretty?' `Sort of. She's also about eighteen and an angry little hornet. In the fifties we would have called her a pixie. Nowadays we'd call her hyperthyroid. She's bug-eyed.' `Where'd they meet?' `Seattle. She helped Bryan set fire — I believe — to a stack of pastel-colored waffle-knit T-shirts in a Gap — back during the World Trade Organization riots. They were separated, then a few months ago they met again destroying a test facility growing genetically modified runner beans.' Janet could sense Sarah changing gears; she was finished discussing the family. Next would come business-like matters: `Well, good for Bryan. You're OK for today's NASA gig?' `Still.' `Howie will pick you up at 9:30, after he picks up my darling brother. By the way, Dad's broke.' `That doesn't surprise me. I'd heard he'd lost his job.' `I tried to loan him some money, but he, of course, said no. Not that there's much to loan. Howie lost the bulk of our savings in some website that sells products for pets. I could strangle him.' `Oh dear.' It's so easy to fall into the mother mode. `Tell me about it. Hey, when was the last time you even saw Dad?' `Half a year ago. By accident at Super-Valu.' `Tense?' `I can handle him.' `Good. See you there.' `Yes, dear.' Click On the walkway outside her room, Janet heard children mewling as they set off to Walt Disney World with their families. She walked to the bathroom across a floor made lunar from eons of cigarette burns and various stains better left uninvestigated. She thought of serial murderers using acids to dissolve the teeth and jawbones of their victims. She unsuspectingly caught sight of herself in a floor-length mirror by the sink and the sight stopped her cold. Yes, Janet, that's correct: you are shrinking — sinew by sinew, protein molecule by protein molecule you are turning into an ... an elf, yes, you, Janet Drummond, once voted `Girl We'd Rob a Bank For.' She was transfixed by the view of herself in a blue nightie, as if she were once again young and this image had been delivered to her from the future as a warning — If I squint I can still see the cool immaculate housewife I once dreamed of becoming. I'm Elizabeth Montgomery starring in Bewitched. I'm Dina Merrill lunching at the Museum of Modern Art with Christina Ford. Oh forget it. She peed, showered, dried and then modified those traces of time's passage on her face that she could. There. I'm not so bad after all. A man might still rob a bank for me, and men still do flirt — not too frequently — and older men perhaps — but the look in the eyes never changes. She dressed, and five minutes later she was a block away sitting in a Denny's reading a paper. The North American weather map on the rear page was a rich, unhealthy crimson, with only a small strip of cool green running up the coast from Seattle to Alaska. Outside the restaurant window the sun on the parking lot made the area seem like a science experiment. She realized she no longer cared about the weather. Next. Back in her motel room, she lay down on the bed haunted by a thousand sex acts. OK — this place is creepy but at least I'm not throwing away money. Her lips were sore to the point that speech was painful, and it hurt to exhale. Her pill buzzer buzzed; she sat up. She reached into her purse and removed a prescription bottle. She turned on the TV, and there was Sarah being interviewed on CNN. As always, her daughter looked glowingly pretty on TV, like a nun who'd never touched makeup. — Do you think you and children like you, born with damage caused by thalidomide, have other messages to tell the world? — Of course. We were the canaries in the coal mine. We were the first children born in which it was proved that chemicals from the outside world — in our case thalidomide — could severely damage the human embryo. These days, most mothers don't smoke or drink during pregnancy. They know that the outer world can enter their babies and cause damage. But in my mother's generation, they didn't know this. They smoked and drank and took any number of medications without thinking twice. Now we know better, and as a species we're smarter as a result — we're aware of teratogens. — Teratogens? — Yes. It means `monster forming'. A horrible word, but then the world can be a horrible place. They're the chemicals that cross the placenta and affect a child's growth in utero. The host turned to the camera: `Time for a quick break. I've been speaking with Sarah Drummond-Fournier, a one-handed woman, and one heck of a fighter, who'll be on Friday's shuttle flight. We'll be right back.' How on earth did I give birth to such a child? I understand nothing about her life. Nothing. And yet she's the spitting image of me, and she's gallivanting up into space. Janet remembered how much she'd wanted to help the young Sarah with her homework, and Sarah's polite-but-resigned invitations to come do so when Janet popped her head into Sarah's doorway. Invariably Janet would look down at the papers that might as well have been in Chinese. Janet would ask a few concerned questions about Sarah's teachers, and then plead kitchen duty, beating a hasty retreat. She turned off the TV. She once cared about everything, and if she couldn't muster genuine concern, she could easily fake it: too much rain stunting the petunias; her children's scrapes; stick figure Africans; the plight of marine mammals. She considered herself one of the surviving members of a lost generation, the last generation raised to care about appearances or doing the right thing — to care about caring. She had been born in 1934 in Toronto, a city then much like Chicago or Rochester or Detroit — bland, methodical, thrifty and rules-playing. Her father, William Truro, managed the furniture and household appliance department of the downtown Eaton's department store. William's wife, Kaye, was, well ... William's wife. The two raised Janet and her older brother, Gerald, on $29.50 a week until 1938, when a salary decrease lowered William's pay to $27 a week, and jam vanished from the Truro breakfast table, the absence of which became Janet's first memory. After the jam, the rest of Janet's life seemed to have been an ongoing reduction — things that had once been essential vanishing without discussion, or even worse, with too much discussion. Seasons changed. Sweaters became ragged, were patched up and became ragged again, and were grudgingly thrown out. A few flowers were grown in the thin band of dirt in front of the brick row house, species scavenged by Kaye for their value as dried flowers, which scrimped an extra few months' worth of utility from them. Life seemed to be entirely about scrimping. In fall of 1938, Gerald died of polio. In 1939 the war began and Canada was in it from the start, and scrimping kicked into overdrive: bacon fat, tin cans, rubber — all material objects — were scrimp-worthy. Janet's most enjoyable childhood memories were of sorting neighborhood trash in the alleys, in search of crown jewels, metal fragments and love notes from dying princes. During the war, houses in her neighborhood grew dingy — paint became a luxury. When she was six, Janet walked into the kitchen and found her father kissing her mother passionately. They saw Janet standing there, a small, chubby, fuddled Campbell's Soup kid, and they broke apart, blushed, and the incident was never spoken of again. The glimpse was her only evidence of passion until womanhood. An hour passed and Janet looked at the bedside clock: almost 9:30, and Howie would have already picked up Wade by now. Janet walked down to the hotel's covered breezeway to wait for her son-in-law. A day of boredom loomed. Then, pow! she was angry all of a sudden. She was angry because she was unable to remember and reexperience her life as a continuous movie-like event. There were only bits of punctuation here and there — the kiss, the jam, the dried flowers — which, when assembled, made Janet who she was — yet there seemed to be no divine logic behind the assemblage. Or any flow. All those bits were merely ... bits. But there had to be logic. How could the small, chubby child of 1940 imagine that one day she'd be in Florida seeing her own daughter launched into outer space? Tiny little Sarah, who was set to circle the Earth hundreds of times. We didn't even think about outer space in 1939. Space didn't exist yet. She removed a black felt Sharpie pen from her purse, and wrote the word `laryngitis' on a folded piece of paper. For the remainder of the day she wouldn't have to speak to anybody she didn't want to. I wonder if Howie is going to be late? No — Howie's not the late type. Excerpted from All Families are Psychotic by Douglas Coupland. Copyright © 2001 by Douglas Coupland. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Bookclub Guide

1) How did you become a writer?The older I get, the more I wonder. I used to think it was by accident, but now I don’t. In one sense it was because nobody in my life would listen to me, and if I didn’t communicate with somebody, anybody, I would go mad. I think this is still the case. Sure, in 2001 I know people will listen to me, but I think the early damage has been done. I still only feel I’m communicating when I’m writing.2) What inspired you to write this particular book? A very large and strange transformation took over my own family two years ago with the birth of my niece, who arrived with no left hand. Sounds simple enough, but the effect was deep and ongoing and in many senses turned my family inside out, like sleeping bags, letting us shake out the dust and bedbugs and let the sun do some healing. The family situation was aggravated by a spike in birth defects in the part of Vancouver where we live. Hence the title of the show [Coupland’s art show Spike]. The spike made the papers, and the spike was definitely there, but in the end there was insufficient energy, will and know-how on the part of the local medical authorities to ferret out the reason for this spike. There was no Erin Brockovich.All Families are Psychotic was one way of trying to accept this situation and reconcile the fate of my family – and everyone’s family – to those forces out there in the world that can scramble us at any moment. One character in the book, the daughter, Sarah, is missing a hand, but in her case, the cause was thalidomide in the year 1960 – a dreadful morning sickness drug that haunted Canadian mothers for years. Everyone else in the book has the same number of quirks and problems as any one else’s family – yours, even.Writing isn’t therapy – it’s a way in which we as humans can make sense of, and come to grips with, our experiences, of taking something intensely personal and rendering it universal.3) What is it that you’re exploring in this book? If the book has any moral, it’s that in the end, I think we love each other just as much for what we are as for what we aren’t. That’s certainly been the big switch in my mind the past few years. Oh, what a release it was when I reached that conclusion – this load was released from my shoulders and it felt almost Biblical!4) Who is your favourite character in this book, and why?Janet Drummond – the 64-year old family matriarch who had thought she was of no familial or social value, and who ends up being very much the core of her family and the social circle around her. She thinks her life is over, and just then it becomes fantastically interesting.5) Are there any tips you would give a book club to better navigate their discussion of your book?Hang in there for the first bit. You have no idea what’s going to happen. Trust me. That’s true of life, too.6) Do you have a favourite story to tell about being interviewed about your book?This book in particular? No – not really. It’s too soon in its life cycle. But I have a thousand other stories about other books.7) What question are you never asked in interviews but wish you were?I’ve been asked everything. I think. Wait – I know — people ask me how ”success” has changed me, and truth be told, it hasn’t. I’m maybe a bit more practical and wary of being used, and wary of sleazeballs who cruise the waters of intellectual property. But that’s it. But nobody ever asks how it’s changed the people around me. It really has changed them, and for years at a time, and mostly not for the better. It took about seven years for the people in my life to stop being so weird about everything. That was a long and lonely seven years.8) Has a review or profile ever changed your perspective on your work?I had the fortune and misfortune of never being edited for the first two-thirds of my career. I was indulged and encouraged to pioneer new forms – which is really the biggest gift you can have as writer. But after a point I got tired of making mistakes I didn’t even know how to identify. I’m a voracious reader, and when I write I simply try to write what I’d want to read myself. There was no distance for me. I’ve really had to “put myself through Harvard” the past four years, and have made huge qualitative and structural leaps in my work. But was this triggered by any one specific review or profile? No. I don’t read them – can’t read them – even when they’re over-the-moon great. But I can certainly pick up the background radiation of what they’re saying. People tell me. And for what it’s worth, people can be quite mean when they pretend to be nice. I was on the cover of Time and not one person phoned or e-mailed. Not one. But when a snippy bit of nothing, untrue gossip appears in a paper 3,000 miles away, my e-mail and phone go nuts. It’s human nature, but come on people – like I don’t notice this?9) Which authors have been most influential to your own writing?Truman CapoteNancy MitfordRichard FordJohn O’HaraMargaret DrabbleKurt VonnegutAnita BrooknerCarol ShieldsJenny Holzer (she’s an artist who works with text)Joan DidionDavid Lodge10) If you weren’t writing, what would you want to be doing for a living? What are some of your other passions in life?Scultpure. Not even a moment’s doubt there.11) If you could have written one book in history, what book would that be?It would be presumptuous of me to answer this.

Editorial Reviews

Praise for All Families Are Psychotic"[All Families Are Psychotic] works because Coupland writes as sweetly and cleanly as a vapour trail." —Elle Canada"[Douglas Coupland’s] focus is always on the moral implications, on human relationships and feelings. There is an almost spiritual aspect to his work that makes it emotionally compelling, and redemption is always at hand to pull his vision back from the brink of apocalypse. But more important perhaps, Coupland can write beautifully. . . . we shouldn’t ignore writers like Coupland who have vision and a thing or two to say. . . . Coincidence features heavily, there is the usual cast of zany characters, an outlandish series of events, the signature cynicism and wry humour - and transcendent moments of epiphany. . . . Coupland Country is ultimately a funny, quirky, compassionate and forgiving place to inhabit.” —Toronto Star"With All Families Are Psychotic author Douglas Coupland has completed a seven-novel mission: he’s finally moved his characters out of the rumpus room. . . . offers a better view of our glittering, behemoth spaceship Earth than most offerings by the usual literary crowd. . . . Coupland ought to be our guide to today’s chilled, illed psychonauts of inner and outer space." —Quill & Quire"There is wit à la early Pynchon or McGuane or Elmore Leonard, and the story does hum along - amazing twists and turns, snappy dialogue, meditations on the future, on postwar concerns: technology, feminism, consumerism, crime, junk culture, genetics." —The Globe and Mail"Subtly subversive." —Georgia Straight"As rich as an ovenful of fresh-baked brownies and twice as nutty. . . . Everyone with a strange family — that is, everyone with a family - will laugh knowingly at the feuding, conducted with a maestro’s ear for dialogue and a deep understanding of humanity. Coupland, once the wise guy of Generation X, has become a wise man." —People Magazine"[Douglas Coupland] has ventured past his trademark satirical style to write an outright farce. . . . [He] has written what is probably his best novel to date. . . . The intricate pacing [is] more like 17th-century drama — John Webster, Ben Jonson or Molière — than slacker sitcom, which is truly a revelation. . . ." —L.A. Weekly"Although the Drummonds appear to be self-destructing, author Coupland reveals himself to be, somewhat surprisingly, an optimist. For him, the new millennium is an era full of promise and potential miracles, despite the seemingly terminal state of the world." —Booklist"Taking whacks at Florida is a bit like shooting a whale in a barrel, but Coupland does it with precision and originality. . . . vivid and true." —Washington Post"True to Coupland's style, the book reads lightning fast. The author punctuates his narrative with clipped dialogue and punchy exchanges that advance the palpable sense of unease and tension running throughout. . . . The entire book brews and builds like a roiling tropical storm." —Amazon.com"Chirpy, bright and strenuously zany." —The New York Times"Coupland mines tabloid territory for sensationalism, which he then undermines with ironic self-awareness. The can-you-top-this atmosphere will keep Coupland's Gen-X readers (the ones who religiously watch Cops for the laughs) totally amused.” —Publishers Weekly“It seemed paradoxical that a writer so revered for his hipness resembled, in practice, nobody so much as Jane Austen.... In the resultant unravelling there isn’t a boring page.” —The Literary Review“He gets beneath their skin, convincing us that their lives of Gothic chaos contain their own perverse logic – a postmodern take on Tolstoy’s maxim that ‘all unhappy families are alike in their unhappiness.’ For a writer so immersed in the slippery textures of our time, Coupland reveals old-fashioned concern for the nature of our social interaction. He questions why we value what we do, and the price we pay to get it. He confronts our imprisoning luxury, with its Faustian freedoms. His hi-tech flights of fancy conceal a baffled humanist; one who echoes G. K. Chesterton’s remark that ‘people are much more eccentric than they are meant to be.’” —Sunday Express“Coupland manages to balance the more weighty strands of the story with an absurdly satirical vision, without compromising either. At the same time, he mines the present with such intensity that it seems like science fiction. This strange, often miraculous fusion has you laughing, thinking and crying all at once, and suggests that Coupland’s writing is becoming more mature than ever.” —Evening Standard“The most frightening element of the novel gives the lie to the truth of its title. Fantastic characters and a beyond-belief plot are insurance policies for white knuckles all the way, punctuated with belly laughs.” —i-D Magazine"…being broken is a way of being together. Despite the meltdown of the family, this book lets us know that we don’t need to worry. . . . Coupland’s novel is ultimately optimistic. Like Anne Tyler, he intertwines the garish and unmeaning events he describes with a thread of hope, sometimes contained in a reminiscence of childhood, sometimes projected into a possible future. . . . Coupland presents us with a heroine rising above the mess of modern America, an honestly trusting person moving through the downbeat style and the defeated, disconnected world of modern America." —Times Literary Supplement“[Douglas Coupland] is on an incredible creative roll. His last four novels . . . are so good and so distinctive that they seem to me to mark a genuine seismic shift in the literary landscape. Could it be that not everyone is as convinced of Coupland’s brilliance as I am? . . . . This is high melodrama: divorce, dysfunction, inter-generational sex, marital infidelity, life-threatening illnesses (everyone has at least one) and spacemen. But Coupland does not tell it in the florid, intense style of the melodrama queen. The tone is rather cool and slow, almost like a song played a beat behind the bar. . . . sophisticated . . . dreamlike.” [full review also compares Doug to Martin Amis and Haruki Murakami] —The New Statesman“Coupland has been growing stronger with each subsequent book and has since Girlfriend In A Coma been making his pitch for best young writer in America (despite being born and brought up in Canada's Vancouver) —The Sunday HeraldPraise for Douglas Coupland“Reading his increasingly assured prose is like watching a teen idol take on Hamlet and pull it off.” —Toronto Life“The self-wrought oracle of our age.” —Saturday Night“Douglas Coupland continues to register the buzz of his generation with a fidelity that should shame most professional Zeitgeist chasers." —Jay McInerney, The New York Times Book ReviewMiss Wyoming“Equal parts love story and absurdist parable, it seamlessly meshes Coupland’s trademark ironic detachment with an unapologetic romanticism that has been absent from his previous work. The intelligence and humour of Coupland’s prose engages the mind while the unabashed yearning of his characters hooks the heart.” —Maclean’sGirlfriend in a Coma“To call Coupland the John Bunyan of his set would not be hyperbole…. Girlfriend approaches an eccentric jeremiad worthy of Kurt Vonnegut.” —The Washington PostPolaroids from the Dead“He bravely commits himself to material that is rich and deeply felt.” —The New York TimesMicroserfs"The novel’s real fun is in the frequent and rapidly fired pop-culture references that spin the ’70s, ’80s, and ‘90s … and Coupland uses them with relish.” —Entertainment WeeklyLife After God“Coupland has at his disposal a dazzling array of tools with which to shape the emotions of his readers: the whimsy of a latter-day Jack Kerouac, the irony of a young Kurt Vonnegut, the poignancy of early John Irving.” —BookpageShampoo Planet“Having called Coupland's first book a Catcher in the Rye for our time, I repeat myself. Nobody has a better finger on the pulse of the twenty-something generation.” —CosmopolitanGeneration X“A groundbreaking novel.” —Los Angeles Times