Player One

UnknownPlayer One: What Is to Become of Us, A Novel in Five Hours 
Douglas Coupland
© 2010

Five people converge in an airport bar.  They are:

  • Karen: “Karen likes crossword puzzles because they make time pass quickly.  Karen makes quilts and donates them to charity because she savours the way quilting slows down time.  Karen finds it strange that people who militantly remove time-expired dairy products from their refrigerator think nothing of abandoning a bottle of Kraft Catalina salad dressing on the fridge door’s condiment shelf for years at a time.”  She is an attractive but lonely, thirty-something divorcée with a teenage Goth daughter, who works as a secretary to three psychiatrists.  She’s in the airport bar to meet Warren, a guy she’s been flirting with on the Internet, in person for the first time.
  • Rick: He is the bartender.  He has no regulars; “just drinkers without roots and with temporarily absent inhibitions” who spill all.  He’s been sober for fourteen months, but, before that, he drank away his gardening business and his visitation rights (his truck and gardening equipment were stolen, but the alcohol was the nail in the coffin).  He has one young son, Tyler.  Today, he intends to give his life savings to Leslie Freemont (who will be coming to the bar!) to participate in his Power Dynamics Seminar.
  • Luke: “A trainwreck of some sort who probably used to play hockey on weekends but now he’s going fleshy, maybe halfway between William Hurt and Gérard Depardieu.”  He’s a second-generation pastor who has just lost his faith.  Yesterday, he looted his church’s renovation fund and hopped on the first plane he could catch.
  • Rachel: A Fembot, who breeds white mice for a living.  She has prosopagnosia (the inability to differentiate faces), “multiple structural anomalies on her limbic system that affect [her] personality,” mild OCD, autism spectrum disorder, and “a lesion in [her] brain’s right hemisphere creates tone-blindness that hinders [her] ability to appreciate what you call humour, irony, passion, and God.”  She’s more robot than human, which is why her father thinks her Bond-girl good looks are a waste and a tragedy.
  • Player One: Rachel’s avatar; an omniscient narrator who gives a glimpse of what will happen next.

The book follows these five characters for five hours in an airport bar.  Near apocalyptic events occur, causing the five to explore some of life’s Big Questions: religion (God, the afterlife), love (relationships, loneliness), and the future.

The book is divided by hour, and each hour is subdivided to give each character’s perspective on the events of that hour.

Rating: 3/5  

I generally like Coupland’s stuff.  It’s funny and creative and timely.  But he’s lost some of his quirk as he’s gotten older.  His early stuff (Shampoo PlanetGeneration X) is better.  That said, I have to give credit where credit is due: he’s still good at creating weird but relatable characters (even if they have a tendency to be a little over-the-top at times).

Coupland wrote this book for the 2010 CBC Massey Lectures.  Each year, the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) invites a noted scholar “to undertake study or original research in his field and present the results in a series of half-hour radio broadcasts.”  Rather than presenting a five-part series of lectures, Coupland presented this five-hour novel.  So, conceptually, that’s cool.  But, unfortunately, the book itself isn’t nearly as creative as the concept.  Things unfold pretty much as you expect them to.

Who should read it: people who are drawn to character-driven novels and don’t mind played-out plots and themes.

Want to read along with me?  Reviews of these books are coming soon:

  • The Good Lord Bird by James McBride (Winner of the 2013 National Book Award for fiction)
  • We the Animals by Justin Torres (one of Amazon’s Best Books of the Month for September 2011)

One thought on “Player One

  1. Pingback: I Know What You Should Read | Andrew’s Brain

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