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The Gum Thief: A Novel Hardcover – October 2, 2007

4.0 out of 5 stars 43 customer reviews

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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.)
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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

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 275 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury; 1st edition (October 2, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1596911069
  • ISBN-13: 978-1596911062
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 1.2 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (43 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,092,052 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The Gum Thief is if nothing else different. The style and pace of the novel is a bit wonky and offbeat, and that is what keeps it interesting. The strongest section of the book is when the main characters are communicating via notes back and forth. It serves as a great narrative for the story and feels fresh and introspective. The main characters are not overly inventive or strong, but the actually storytelling method makes the story very interesting.

There is also the featured story within a story going on. This again provides a slightly more cryptic, but still interesting look at the main character's life. There also some oddball side characters that weave in and out of the story that provides some interesting moments. Overall, a fun and fairly light read.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is fairly familiar territory for Douglas Coupland. He's no stranger to depression and despair. I think this is a good companion piece to Life After God -- that book featured the awkward transition from childhood to full-fledged adulthood and how the characters saw where their lives were heading, and this book is like the dead-end road some of them probably drove on. "The Gum Thief's" main character, Roger Thorpe, isn't having a midlife crisis; it's more like a midlife resignation. He's coming to the realization (in typically calm Coupland demeanor) that he's nothing special, his life will never be great, he'll probably never accomplish anything profound and that he is, like most people, just plodding along working hard for mediocrity. It's all depressing because it's very real. Coupland's characters have a way of easily coming to life through their inner thoughts and feelings. And he's always capable of that brilliant bon mot that succinctly blows a subject up and leaves you wondering how he stole a thought directly from your brain.

"The Gum Thief" has a cool structure. It's Roger's journal, but his coworker, a youngish Goth name Bethany, finds it one day and also contributes to it -- as does her mother on occasion, and we also get Roger's inanely-titled novel-in-progress "Glove Pond," which is basically a take on "Cat of a Hot Tin Roof" but with the fears, concerns and character traits of the characters we've been getting to know.

Bethany is the small ray of hope here -- she's still young enough to change. Even though I think Bethany is probably too articulate and intelligent to believe she's toiling away at Staples, you always find yourself rooting for her.
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