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Four characters narrate aftermath of a massacre
by Christina M. Hinke
"Hey Nostradamus!" By Douglas Coupland. Bloomsbury. 244 Pages. $21.95.
The Associated Press
August 12, 2003
Four characters each take a turn narrating Douglas Coupland's novel "Hey Nostradamus!" a story about desperate people searching for an escape.
During the search, issues of religion, faith, violence, alienation and trust are explored within the framework of a story about an event similar to the massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999.
Coupland's first narrator is Cheryl, a senior killed when three kids in fatigues burst into her school's cafeteria and open fire. She tells her story from the afterlife.
Cheryl had sought love to justify her existence and found it in God and in Jason, a boy whom she viewed as "so untouched by life" and "dewy clean" and to whom she is secretly married.
When the shooting ends, Jason tells us he "climbed under a table and held Cheryl in my arms. ... I was glued to Cheryl. My arms actually made suction noises when I moved them. I was covered in her blood."
He is prescribed amphetamines to help him deal with the trauma. As the second narrator, he tells readers, "... With a newly minted junkie's bloodless logic, I was already trying to figure out how soon I could locate more, and at least I had something else to focus on besides Cheryl's death."
His mind constantly churns out thoughts of death and loneliness, thoughts that are "like a cool, deep lake" -- dark and endless. Jason is the most interesting of the narrators.
Ten years after the shootings, as Jason tells his story, he is still lost without Cheryl and searching to fit in somewhere. "Forget about ruling the world," he says. "I can barely get the automatic doors at the Save-On-Foods to acknowledge my existence."
Heather, the third narrator and Jason's girlfriend, also feels alienated. She describes her relationship with Jason, but it seems transparent and underdeveloped, perhaps because Coupland is writing in a female's voice.
A similar problem is evident in Cheryl's narration, which could be mistaken for that of a male until she reveals her identity. Her thoughts are deeply felt as the reader experiences her struggle to understand death, but her feelings about love are not conveyed as effectively. Cheryl's character is not as fully developed as readers might have liked her to be.
However, Coupland does successfully explore the tenacious ego of Reg, the final narrator, and how it led to his demise.
Reg, Jason's father, rejects anyone who doesn't share his religious beliefs, which alienates him from most people. We later see him anguish about his failed relationships with his family and God.
"Hey Nostradamus!" would have benefited from being longer; some story lines are introduced and not explored, confusing the reader.
Overall, though, Coupland's writing is brilliant. His black humor shines through and his descriptions are quick and exact. Jason describes "what it's like to hold a dying person in your arms. The first thing is how quickly they cool off, like dinner on a plate."
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