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The Gum Thief: A Novel Hardcover – October 2, 2007
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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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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 cleverand he is almost always very cleverrather 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
Top customer reviews
"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. Hoping she makes the right choices, and doesn't end up like Roger and her mother, a particularly desperate and sad character who would rather see her daughter miserable just to keep her close and not be alone.
Coupland doesn't offer any easy answers or happy endings here. There's plenty of deadpan, droll humor, but it has a sad core. I don't recommend this book to anyone feeling lost and hopeless, but I do recommend it for anyone who wants to feel briefly connected to a couple of realistically flawed, amusingly self-aware characters.
This was a fantastic novel, nonetheless. A story about the perils of every day life, and how these fictional characters translate into the non fiction we have become used to in our own lives. On a deeper level, the truths that we both accept and ignore because of their discomfort. Coupland brings this to the surface with utter triumph. His writing and visual technique makes this a novel that one cannot put down until it ends. If you are looking for something deeper than just a 'story' as well as some deep insight into human nature, this is the book for you.
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.
An excellent choice for commuters. You can start on Monday and be finished by Friday, just reading on the commutes alone.
Judging by the reviews here, and from conversations with my friends who read it also, it seems like a lot of people had a hard time with this book. I can understand why, it's a little out of his wheelhouse. So if you're new to Coupland, maybe start with some of his earlier stuff, like JPod, Gen-X, and Microserfs. Gumthief has less of the tech bent than the earlier work, but is still packed with the one liners that make him so awesome.
The book inside a book thing usually blows, not here.
Reread it 6 months ago and loved it.