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The Gum Thief: A Novel Paperback – October 14, 2008


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA; Reprint edition (October 14, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1596915005
  • ISBN-13: 978-1596915008
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.5 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,314,949 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Two misfits find common ground and a unique, surreal friendship via unspoken words in Coupland's latest (after JPod), a fine return to form. In the two years since his wife's (nonfatal) cancer was diagnosed, Roger Thorpe has devolved into a dejected, hard-drinking, divorced father and the oldest employee by a fair margin at Staples. A frustrated novelist to boot, Roger considers himself lost, continually haunted by dreams of missed opportunities and a long ago car accident that claimed four friends. His younger, disgruntled goth co-worker, Bethany Twain, one day discovers Roger's diary—filled with mock re-imaginings of her thoughts and feelings—in the break room. She lays down a supreme challenge for them both to write diary entries to each other, but neither is allowed to acknowledge the other around the store. Through exchanged hopes and dreams, customer stories, world views and cautionary revelations (time speeds up in a terrifying manner in your mid-thirties), the pair become intimately acquainted before things unravel for both. Running parallel to the epistolary narrative are chapters from Roger's novel, Glove Pond, which begins having much in common with the larger narrative it's enclosed in. Coupland shines, the story is humorous, frenetic, focused and curiously affecting. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Relentlessly contemporary Coupland helped explode the Gen-X mind-set, and now follows his specimens as they stumble into their inevitable midlife crisis. Roger, a forty-something alcoholic washup and aisle-jockey at Staples ponders the unlikelihood of escaping one's pitiable little life. Another soul trapped in the sterile confines is Bethany, a goth girl with her own private disaster of a life. The two form an unlikely friendship in this cleverly crafted, bitterly funny epistolary novel, while at the same time Roger works on his own novel, a Cheever-like exercise wherein bitter couples lob witty insults at each other while drowning in Scotch and failure. When the Roger and Bethany story lags and meanders, it is this gloriously bad novel that keeps the reading so mightily entertaining. Chronicling life's crises that don't only happen in the middle, Coupland mostly coasts along on being clever—and he is almost always very clever—rather than heartfelt as his creations slowly tick off the things that they will never become. But just because it's intentional doesn't change the fact that this is about as warm as fluorescent lighting on goth-whitewashed cheeks. Chipman, Ian --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By J. Norburn on December 1, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Douglas Coupland's astute observations and unique sense of humor shine through in The Gum Thief, a novel about a 20-something Goth girl (Bethany) who develops an unlikely friendship with an alcoholic, aspiring author (Roger) when she comes across his journal and starts corresponding with him.

Coupland is arguably one of the most inventive, entertaining, and perceptive authors writing today. The Gum Thief is made up entirely of documents written by characters in the novel including the journal entries, a novel in progress, letters, creative writing essays, and email messages.

The Gum Thief is a mature work about loneliness, growing older, and coping with life when things don't turn out the way you planned. It also speaks to the way we communicate with one another, and how we can express ourselves more openly with strangers or on the written page.

The limitation of the novel lies with its plot. There isn't much of one. The novel is about the growing bond between three central characters in the novel who rarely, if ever, talk to one another. Coupland, clearly feeling a need to wrap the novel up with some drama, has one of the characters make a choice that feels strangely false. While a friendship does develop in the novel, it isn't apparent that the characters change much as a result (particularly Roger, who remains in the same rut he started in at the beginning of the novel). There isn't even a sense that Roger and Bethany will move beyond their written correspondence and actually begin to communicate with one another in person.

The Gum Thief is breezy, insightful, and at times, laugh-out-loud funny. Sure, it hasn't got much of a plot and the ending isn't entirely satisfying but it doesn't matter much. The Gum Thief is one of the most entertaining novels I've read in a while. It has the humor of J-Pod, but with the heart of Microserfs.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Daniel Holland on November 9, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Douglas Coupland is a damn good writer. Very smart, witty, and funny as hell. I feel like a lot of this book is just about him riffing on the modern world and it's a great ride. Makes you want to go back and find the parts that were so awesome.

I had the same problem with this book as with JPod, though. The novel has an interesting structure and fun characters, but it lacks depth. After a while it just feels like light fun, but I need more nourishment out of a novel. The ending tries to bring it together and provide some of what I see lacking, but it seems a little forced.

I think Coupland is a brilliant writer and I don't know of anyone out there today that provides that sharp wit and perspective into the little things in life, the absurdities, and maybe how to make good of it. I just wish I could say it hit me in the heart more.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Martin P. Eckert on November 16, 2007
Format: Hardcover
The Gum Thief, in my opinion, is Coupland's best since Hey Nostradamus!, which means a lot since HN! is one of my favorite books of all time.

Every page of The Gum Thief is hilarious. I laughed out loud at least once on every page. As a writer, when I read a Coupland book, I get inspired, especially when it's as good as this.

Well, enough about what I think. Here's a quick plot summation so you can figure out what this book is about:

The Gum Thief follows Roger Thorpe, a mid-40's burnout working a customer service job at a Staples. He is divorced, still in shock from the death of one of his children, and trying to find meaning in a life that's over half gone.

In a strange way, he befriends Bethany, an overweight Goth co-worker of his. Their friendship consists of taking turns writing entries in Roger's diary, espousing their fears about life, death, and try to attach meaning to seemingly meaningless nuances. But Bethany makes the rule that they have to act like they don't know each other around the store.

The novel is in the form of written communication, whether it's Roger and Bethany's diary entries, letters from Roger's ex-wife, letters from Bethany's mom, Staples co-workers, or Roger's novel-in-progress, Glove Pond.

The Gum Thief is about looking for meaning in life, loneliness, the effects of growing older, and the way writing communicates more about our lives than we would say to each other in person. A work of amazing emotional depth, one that I will be musing over for days to come, and one that I will keep on the shelf to read again one day.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Michael Zier on February 17, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I opened this book as a fan of Coupland's previous works, and was not disappointed. I could identify very much with Roger, even though I rarely drink and don't have an ex-wife or former bar flings. I wanted so much for his life to improve over the course of the book, and for Bethany as well.

And yet, their lives barely improved. Sure, he reconnected with someone from his past, at least by written letter, and Bethany stopped acting out through her wardrobe, but all she did was act out in other ways instead. At the end, the only character who seems to have benefited from the few hundred pages of reading was Roger, but that's speculative at best.

I finished the book eager to find out what happened to the characters next, not just because I grew attached to the characters, but because there was no sense of closure. Did Dee Dee and Roger continue to be friends? Hook up? Rekindle their past? Did Bethany make any changes to become "normal" without harming herself this time? Do they still write? Did Roger get a job, or stop drinking? Too many unanswered questions, and it is not usual for Coupland to write a book that begs for a sequel. Another review alluded that he ran out of ideas and finished on autopilot, and I suppose there's a lot of truth in that.

Still, it's worth the read. Just don't get your hopes up for a satisfying ending.
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