Worst. Person. Ever. concerns one Raymond Gunt, an English cameraman who is tasked by his ex-wife Fiona to fly all the way to Kiribati to work on the US TV show, Survivor. Along the way, he has a fight with a homeless man who quickly becomes one of his best friends, tries it on with Tabitha (Fiona’s gopher) unsuccessfully, gets on a flight in the company of some behaviourally challenged children, upsets airline staff to the degree that they strap him in his seat, takes another flight in which he irritates a fat man to death, arrives in Honolulu and falls out with a guy called Stuart who appears to be running the whole Survivor gig, takes a shine to Stuart’s girlfriend Sarah, has an allergic reaction to a nut and passes out, travels from the hospital to the airport, falls out with some more people, eats another Macadamia nut and passes out again, falls foul of Homeland Security, comes round on a plane that is forced to land on Wake Island where Ray is forced to recreate the angry dance out of Billy Elliot before becoming involved in the bombing of the Pacific Trash Vortex which almost triggers a nuclear war. Not that Ray is bothered all that much – he’s too busy cursing his luck for missing out on all the sex on Kiribati (which he keeps missing because he keeps passing out all the time).
Now, you might be thinking at this point Worst. Person. Ever does not sound all that good but perhaps the way Coupland tells this tale might make it something worth reading. After all, he has served up the goods a few times over the years. We liked Generation X, we liked Life after God and Microserfs and Miss Wyoming and Hey Nostradamus and Eleanor Rigby and JPod and The Gum Thief. You would think that would be enough books to make Douglas Coupland a safe bet but then we hated Shampoo Planet, Girlfriend in a Coma, and All Families are Psychotic. His two most recent books, Generation A and Player One fell into the middle ground – not classics but neither were they particularly bad either. Unfortunately, though, Worst. Person. Ever. is not saved by the way it is written. Quite the opposite in fact. If you were to approach this, perhaps wondering if Raymond Gunt is Douglas Coupland’s Mickey Sabbath, you would be disappointed. Raymond Gunt is more like Douglas Coupland’s foul mouthed retake of Timmy Mallett. In that Raymond Gunt is both annoying and not funny.
Even this, though, might be salvageable. I’m not one of those readers who has to have a narrator he likes or a set of events that have to be plausible. There are probably a dozen books by Kurt Vonnegut, Richard Brautigan, Tom Robbins and Jonathan Lethem, to pick four writers largely at random, that I cherish and re-read and continue to get a huge kick out of (Motherless Brooklyn, for instance, has a similar narratorial device to Worst. Person. Ever. but it marries that device to a plot). Worst. Person. Ever. is a series of sketches, farcical interludes in which our hero is either insulting or hurt and which more often than not end with him passing out. There are things that are wrong (our English hero uses words like ‘sidewalk’ and ‘diaper’ that no English person in the history of time has ever used – unless said English person is mocking an American person), things that are annoying (Gunt’s offensiveness – calling women ‘cumdumps’ etc – feels put-on; read this book alongside anything by Sam Lipsyte and you can see how offensiveness should be done, Coupland does it badly), things that are dull (this thing happened, then this thing happened, then another thing happened and then I passed out) and things that hammer home how bad the book is – such as the time when Raymond and his homeless friend (who becomes his PA and then becomes more successful than Raymond because he is gorgeous) have a chuckle:
‘We stood there gawping until a fly landed in my mouth and I horked [surely ‘hawked’? – ed.] it out, laughing. It was terribly funny. It just was. Neal thought so too, and we both laughed to the point where our stomachs dry-heaved. Small children with sticks stopped to stare at us, while stray dogs avoided us, rightly fearing our magnificent grasp of the true fabric of the universe.’
Nothing like someone telling you how funny something is to rob a moment of any humour it might have. The pace is frenetic, the delivery is manic, everything is a joke (which renders everything unfunny) and whatever major plot points there are (a possible nuclear war) come to pretty much nothing. Worst. Person. Ever. is a book you get to the end of with relief (even as you feel somewhat aggrieved that you wasted time reading it). I don’t say all of this lightly, either. I’m someone who has taken a lot of enjoyment from Coupland’s books over the years. I’ve savoured the highs and the lows, in part because the lows often presage the highs. My hope would be that the next Douglas Coupland novel I read helps me remove the acrid taste of this one from my mouth. As Tina Fey’s character in 30 Rock is often giving to saying: Blurg.
Any Cop?: Takes the title from Girlfriend in a Coma as Worst. Douglas. Coupland. Book. Ever.