Girlfriend in a Coma

Girlfriend in a Coma

by Douglas Coupland

Thinking. This is what you do when you are reading "Girlfriend in Coma", and this is what you will do long after reading it. Thinking about life, thinking about your life, how it was in the past, how it is in the present and how it will be in the future. "Thinking about the future means you want something" (p. 45).

the past, the present and the future

And this is also what the main characters do the whole book long. This is what the book is about. Girlfriend in a Coma is a book about the sense and meaning of life.
In the book there isn’t much action, although it tells nearly 20 years of the lives of 6 friends in Vancouver: Karen, Richard, Hamilton, Pam, Wendy and Linus.
In the beginning they are all 17 and go to high - school in the year 1979.
"I’m Jared, a ghost." (p.3). This is the first sentence. In this first chapter Jared, who appears again only in the last part of the book, talks about himself and what will come next in the book. Jared is a friend of the 6, but dies of cancer when he is 16.
In the first of the three parts is Richard the narrator.
He starts with "Karen and I deflowered each other atop Grouse Mountain [...]". They are skiing, and as they are on the chairlift up again the mountain, Karen says strange things. "Well I was asleep when it happened - but it was more realistic than a dream. Maybe a kind of vision. [...] It was set in our house on Rabbit Lane, but everything had gone to seed. The trees and grass. .. and the people, too. You, Pam. .. really dirty and grungy. [...] These things are all in the future. [...] I could see us - we weren’t being tortured or anything - we were all still alive and all. .. older. .. middle - aged or something, but. .. ‘meaning’ had vanished. [...] We were meaningless." (p.9/10). Karen gives Richard an envelope and asks him to keep it up until tomorrow, but he shouldn’t open it. Richard is very confused after all that.
In the evening they meet their friends at a party. There Karen takes two valiums and drinks some alcohol, not much, and suddenly she turns pale, doesn’t speak anymore and almost falls asleep. Her friends don’t really worry about her, they take her home, lay her in her bed and let her sleep. About half an hour later Richard comes to check Karen. "My brain collapsed. My arms and legs stung as though they were growing quills; my mouth dried as though stuffed with straw. ‘She’s. .. not. .. breathing!’ I shouted. (p.22).
Then Karen is taken to hospital. She is alive, but she is in a coma, her brain activities reduced to the minimum. "Can she think?(mother) - I can’t tell you. (doctor)".
Richard opens the envelope now and reads the letter inside: "Hi Beb. Karen here. If you are reading this you are either a) the World’s Biggest Sleazebag and I hate you for peeking at this or b) there’s been some very bad news and it’s a day later. I hope that neither of these is true!! [...] ". In this letter she writes about her vision, about the future. This the future is dark, bad and apocalyptic. She writes that she saw Jared. "I fell like sleeping for a thousand years - that way I’ll never have to be around for this weird new future. [...] And say good - bye to the gang. [...] Could you wait for me?I’ll be back from wherever it is I’m going. I don’t know when, but I will." (p.28).
On the next 90 pages Richard describes how life goes on without Karen. They all graduate at high school, some better and some worse. Richard’s marks go down. It seems that Richard "didn’t care any longer". Wendy and Linus graduated successfully, "losing themselves in science".
The only thing to mention in this time is that Karen gives birth to Megan when she is the ninth month in a coma. Megan becomes just a normal girl, not especially intelligent, but also not dumb, just average.
Wendy becomes a doctor and is working very hard all her life.
Linus gets a job as an electric engineer. "His life seemed dull. An adult too early"." [...] one day in 1990, without telling anybody, he left the city. [...] parked his VW bug on the side of a ridge, Continental Drive [...] and went walking through [...] the fields, [...] slouching eastwards, then south as winter approached, never again to return to his VW." (p.70). He spends a time in Las Vegas, he later says that he was looking for something, not knowing what, and he didn’t find it. 2 years later Linus comes back, lonely and sad.
Pam gets a famous model in late 1980s but she also comes back a few years later as she isn’t successful any longer, also lonely and sad.
Hamilton got a pyro technician. "By 1985 he earned his geology degree and his blaster’s ticket, and for years thereafter he was clam - happy, roaming the province, felling mountains and hammering cliffs into gravel.". But also Hamilton is lonely, " ‘When was the last time you had a real conversation with anybody?(Linus)’ - ‘I don’t need this shit.’ " (Hamilton)
And Richard gets a boring office job and starts drinking.
In 1992 Wendy marries Linus and Pam marries Hamilton.
All these years Richard visits Karen regularly.
The next part in their lives starts as the film industry comes up in Vancouver. Richard becomes a location scout. And it seems his life becomes a bit less dark, "It hadn’t become a hit yet, but I liked its vibe and it was the most polite set I’d worked on" (he talks about the TV - series he works for). Pam, Hamilton and Linus become "known locally as quality special effects people", and "their eyes lit up".
" October 31, 1997 - Halloween Friday was a day of profound omens and endless coincidence, but with no guidebooks to help in discerning a higher meaning." In this night a lot happens. Pam and Hamilton " Od’d at a Halloween party", heroin. And Richard ends up drunk in a canyon in front of a dam. "A bird trilled above. I blinked and paused, and then I cried, because I knew that at that same moment three miles away in a crypt - like hospital room Karen was blinking, too - that after 6,719 days of sleep, she had just awakened." And with this sentence the second part of the book begins. The narrator is now an unknown third person.
Karen awakens, and at first she wonders where she is, the last thing she remembers is taking two valiums, for her the night before. Then all her friends arrive, Wendy working in the hospital anyway, Linus comes with Pam and Hamilton, and Megan comes to get the morning - after pill, "Megan knows that she is pregnant. It was meant to be.". Richard is also hurrying for the hospital, "Richard is no longer drunk". He runs for Karen, "Above him, the sun rises under a sky the color of a navel orange [...]". As he reaches the hospital a camera crew is already there.
Hamilton and Pam survive, but one odd thing happens when they are both asleep at the hospital, "Their life signals leap and jag, copies of each other.". The two dream exactly the same things, pictures of the apocalypse that Karen saw 17 years ago.
Soon Karen is taken home. All people want to tell Karen the things that happened in her 17 years of absence. "Look at this! Look at this! People are always showing Karen new electronic doodads.", "And she thinks she’ll go crazy if one more person tells her that the Berlin Wall came down and AIDS exists in the world.".
Karen sees this new world with the eyes of the old world, and she doesn’t like the earth anymore : "Nobody seems to be able to endure simply being themselves, either - but at the same time they’re isolated. People work much more, only to go home and surf the Internet and send e - mail rather than calling or writing a note or visiting each other. They work, watch TV, and sleep. The whole world is only about work: work work work get get get [...]. People are frazzled and angry, desperate about money, and, at best, indifferent to the future." (p.153).
7 days before Christmas 1997 Karen gives an interview to the world, because her awaking is nearly a miracle. A few minutes before the interview starts Karen suddenly remembers everything. "She now remembers where it was she went." And then she says :"And it’s going to happen. It’s going to happen here." The interview starts quite normal, but Karen isn’t giving the answers, the TV - crew wants, they want more emotion. And then Karen is asked about her boyfriend Richard, who has waited for her all these years, and tears run down her face, that’s what they wanted. But for some unexplainable reason the sound is lost on this scene, and they have to redo it, and this time Karen isn’t crying. The next question is about the world in her eyes, and Karen answers :"The world’s going to be over soon. [...] Three days after Christmas. That’s when the world goes dark. There’s nothing that can be done and there’s no escaping. I saw it happen in 1979 [...] I thought I could sleep my way out of it [...]".
And it happens, it happens on the 27. December 1997. Everywhere in the world people are getting tired and they "just want to go home". They lie down, not caring where they are, and sleep forever. Houses start to burn, planes are crashing down, and on the highway there’s one big jam of damaged and burning cars, the electricity fails and everybody dies except Karen, Richard, Hamilton, Pam, Wendy, Linus and Megan. The apocalypse is here, "The world’s over now. Our time begins.". And with this last sentence from Karen part 2 ends, and the last part begins. Now the narrator is Jared.
It’s one year later. The 7 are alone in the world. The whole day long they are doing nothing except watching videotapes and breaking in supermarkets to find still eatable food. Now Jared visits them regularly. Don’t forget he’s a ghost. "What are we going to do, Jared ?" (Megan) - " You think you’ve been forsaken - that the opportunity for holiness is gone, but this isn’t true. Time is over; the world is gone. You’ve got just one option left. You blew this year, but you can make good. [...] there’s still Plan B." (p.261). Why did they blow their lives? They should have " [...] asked a million questions about why the world became the way it did." They should have thought about their lives, about what they did wrong and what right, they should have thought about a meaning of life, they should have thought about how they could change their lives, that was what they did all their lives long, they were looking for answers, now they had the chance to get them, but they didn’t take it, "But you didn’t - arson, looting, cocktails, video and demo derbies [...] " (p.257), "You can choose to stand up after a terrible storm or can you simply lie and die there." (Barbara Wibmer).
If they had stood up, they would have got their lives back. But now comes Plan B. "Plan B is this: You’re to be different now. Your behavior will be changing. Your thinking is to change. And people will watch these changes in you, and they’ll come to experience the world in your new manner." (p.268). When they are back in 1997, they have to shout questions aloud about the life, and how to change, they have to write them on walls, they have to make people look at them, they have to become prophets.
Richard: " You’ll soon be seeing us walking down your street, our backs held proud, our eyes dilated with truth and power. We might look like you, but you should know better. [...] We’ll be adults who smash the tired, exhausted system. We’ll crawl and chew and dig our way into a radical new world. We will change minds and souls from stone and plastic into linen and gold - that’s what I believe. That’s what I know."

my past, my present and my future

I got to read this book when I looked through the "Libro Journal", it had a strange title and it was the "book of the month", I didn’t read the review yet, but then it became second best book of the year (Libro Journal), and I became more interested. Then I read the review, and there stood something about the meaning of life, about a girl who looks at the lives of her friends after 17 years in a coma, there stood something about an emptiness of life, about a senselessness and about very few happy moments. I decided to read "Girlfriend in a Coma".
It fulfilled my expectations. But one thing I didn’t like about the book was the general idea of the ending. I didn’t expect answers, but it’s no solution to become so mad like they should become, they will be freaks back in life and they won’t change anything. How many freaks and fanatics do we have ? Do they change anything ? They only kill a lot of people and themselves afterwards. The world has to change, but that’s the wrong way to reach this change. Everybody has to change in a different way. The answers are different for everybody, there is no general answer.
The book made me think again and maybe made me think more intensively about my life and life. There is nothing in the book I haven’t thought about before, the book represents my thoughts and feelings. I had many "that’s damn right" situations when reading it.
Was it such a good book, such an essential theme, was I just in the right mood, in the right age, that the book had this impression on me ? Probably it was altogether.
I hate it walking down a street and only seeing dark, angry, bad and sad faces coming into my way and wanting me being one of them, and sometimes they get me, they influence me, the infect me with their sickness, I become sick myself and again infect others. They are empty and they gave it up searching for answers. They look at you as if you were an alien when having a smile on your face, when you run to the train station because you have something to do, because you have a goal to make, something to run for or even something to live and die for, when you found it, the answers, the truth, or when you just had one of the few happy moments. You have to say "I’m not like them, my name is Michael Salcher and I’m fucking proud of it !"1. That’s what the book is all about.
I saw the mistakes the characters made in the book, some are similar to mine, and the others, I hope I won’t make. I saw how life shouldn’t be, I know that I have to live life differently, I have it lain before me, I won’t get a second chance. I have to live my life in my own correct way at the first time. I have to live now. And I will.

Douglas Coupland

Douglas Coupland was born on a Canadian NATO basis in Baden - S├Âllingen, Germany on December 30, 1961. He is the third of four sons of Douglas C. T. Coupland and Janet Coupland. At the age of 4 his parents moved to Vancouver, where he still lives. About his family he once said "I come from an unemotional, undemonstrative family."
Mr. Coupland graduated at Sentinel Secondary School in West Vancouver in 1979. After graduating at Emily Carr College of Art and Design in Vancouver 1984, he went to the European Design Institute in Milan, Italy and to the Hokkaido College of Art and Design in Sapporo, Japan. In 1986 he completed a two - year course in Japanese business science along with fine art and industrial design. He enjoyed early success as a sculptor and had an exhibition at the Vancouver Art Gallery entitled "The Floating World" in 1987.
A local paper offered him a writing job, after the editor had been amused by a postcard he had written while living in Japan. About this job he said "There was just no dignity.".
In 1989 Douglas Coupland moved to Palm Springs, California, to write his first book, Generation X. The term "Generation X" comes from this book and with it the people born between 1960 and 1970 are meant. These people whose parents were hippies. They see no future for themselves, they see only the bad things of life, they see no sense in life. Mr. Coupland doesn’t want to be called the spokesperson for his generation. "I speak for myself, not for a generation."

He has written 8 novels so far: Generation X (1991), Shampoo Planet (1992), Life after God (1994), Microserfs (1995), Polaroids from the Dead (1996), Girlfriend in a Coma (1998), Lara’s Book: Lara Croft and the Tomb Raider Phenomenon (1998) and Miss Wyoming (1999). His books have been translated into 22 languages. He also writes regularly for The New York Times, The New Republic and The Art Forum.

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