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August 17, 2006

“the untended garden”

The Drummonds are implausible, but not quite. Every strange and random thing Coupland invents for them is evidence of the absurdities made possible by modernity (by which I mean individual consciousnesses – especially the much-revered quick wit – and bizarre social relationships and structures enabled by urban anonymity and all kinds of technology). The story, All Families Are Psychotic, unfolds mainly from the viewpoint of sixty-five year old maternal Janet, self-described as a dumb bunny, who had accepted the simplistic myths passed down by adults and advertisements.

tiny flowers.jpg at a farmstand near Sile

The novel covers terminal illness, illegal drug marketing and manufacture, sadism, babies for sale, and a million schemes for making money. It includes affairs, drugs, alcohol, space flight and Princess Diana. It is also about family, memory, and philosophies of life. Janet's father once explained, “We do so many things and we don’t know why, and if we do find out why, it’s decades later and knowing why doesn’t matter any more’” (51).

Midway through a series of events that most people would consider more-than-plenty for a lifetime, “Janet sensed that her opinion of her life was changing. Two days ago, it had felt like merely a game of connect the dots – a few random dots, spaced widely apart and which produced a picture of a scribble. But now? Now her life was nothing but dots, dots that would connect in the end to create a magnificent picture – Noah’s Ark? A field of cornflowers? A Maui sunset? She didn’t know the exact image, but a picture was indeed happening – her life was now a story. Farewell, random scribbles (2002: 173).

She rebuts her oldest son’s proclamation, “my past is no longer the issue that it once was!” Janet laughs, explaining, “Your past isn’t something you escape from. It’s what you are” (193). Later, she muses to a new friend, “Funny how you only realize how deeply events have affected you years and years after they’ve occurred” (235). She does learn how to change her orientation to this knowledge though, because she moves beyond the reaction of becoming “angry at the way the past was always inserting itself into the present” (164).

Thinking of Sam (as I have been), I think he would have loved this book for its mix of serio-comic: “The accelerated perception of death quickly eroded many of the traditional barriers between her and others, and she found she had a talent…” (123) and “Our lives are geared mainly to deflect the darts thrown at us by the laws of probability. The moment we’re able, we insulate ourselves from random acts of hate and destruction….The dull day is a triumph of the human spirit, and boredom is a luxury unprecedented in the history of our species”(86).

This, just before confronting a gunman during a robbery in which he has already shot a couple of people. “’I’m sixty-five, you twerp. Shoot me, but I’m going to help Kevin here. I’m sure your buddies would really respect you for shooting an unarmed sixty-five-year-old lady,’ Janet sat down beside Kevin and held his hand” (86).

There’s much more.

On the mass media: “Her eyes and ears were tickled and molested by screens and speakers, all of them heralding the birth or death of something sacred or important” (259).

On political economy: “Lots of fat people means lots of happy farmers, happy agrochemical makers, happy teamsters, happy fast-food staffs – happiness and joy for all. Fatness ripples through the entire economy in a tsunami or prosperity” (234).

On accomplishment: “There are simply these things that need to be done, and it’s simpler to do them than to not do them” (73).

On silence: “I’m so tired of people never saying things. Silence reminds me of when I was growing up. Stifling” (81).

On the moon: “If human beings had never happened, that same moon would still have been in that very same position, and nothing about it would be different than it is now” (69).

On physical abuse: “When Dad hits me, it’s not like he wants to hurt my outside. He wants to hurt me on the inside. He thinks he’s King Shit, and he wants to let me know it” (60).

On talk: “After the [disappearance of] the jam, the rest of Janet’s life seemed to be an ongoing reduction – things that had once been essential vanishing without discussion, or even worse, with too much discussion” (11).

Posted by Steph at August 17, 2006 8:45 AM


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