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R&R 066 | The Gum Thief

Douglas Coupland
The Gum Thief
First published in: 2007
This edition: limited signed edition boxset (The Gum Thief & Glove Pond), Bloomsbury 2007
ISBN: 978-0-7475-9448-2
The Gum Thief cover photo by Getty Images.
Glove Pond cover image: Preparing a Meal by Nicolas-Bernard Lepicié

R&R 066 | The Gum Thief

The reason Douglas Coupland is one of my all-time favourite writers, is that he manages to tell a story about ordinary people, in the most interesting way possible.
The Gum Thief centers around a group of Staples employees and people connected to them. These people are not microserfs. Not women surviving a plane crash, not tech loving metro-sexual shampoo fanatics. Nope. These are Staples employees. They could be selling paperclips to you.

These people are individuals some would consider to be average, boring perhaps. Uninteresting. But when Coupland writes about these people, he touches on something. Perhaps the familiarity. These people, they could be you. They could be me.

The main character here is Roger Thorpe, who is frustrated with his downward spiraling life. A divorced alcoholic and the oldest employee at his branch of Staples, Roger could be said to be suffering from a pretty bad case of a midlife crisis. To make matters worse, Roger's an aspiring and as of yet unsuccessful novelist. The stress that comes with that is just the icing on the cake.

To get through his work days, he keeps a journal about his younger Goth coworker Bethany, mocking her in a way by writing (with freakish accuracy) his own version of Bethany's thoughts and emotions. When Bethany discovers the journal, she's pissed but also intrigued – this guy knows her, somehow – and proceeds to respond to Roger in his journal.

And thus begins the communication between Roger and Bethany (and others at times), for which one rule applies: in 'real life', they don't speak or as much as look at each other. That is the deal.

The Gum Thief reads like an interconnected group web log. It's wonderful to see these two people who (seemingly) have nothing in common, except their dissatisfaction with their jobs, get to know one and other intimately. They are completely frank and open with each other and there's something very disarming about it. (Even though you can't help but know that not having to look each other in the face helps with the openness.) I love that us readers get a look into their lives this way. It's kind of like reality TV, or maybe a written version of The Office. There's a charm to its normalcy.

This is the Coupland I love, and have missed a little.

The Gum Thief is a very human book, mature and uplifting without being unrealistic. There's no overkill on happy moments or blissful endings for all. Figuring things out isn't done instantly, let alone coped with immediately. It's a process. People will continue to make mistakes, and they need to in order to recognize the effect their choices have on their lives and the lives of others.

Another noteworthy aspect to The Gum Thief is that Roger's novel Glove Pond is included in the novel (ohhh meta-fiction!); the novel-in-novel created by Roger (and proofread, commented on, by Bethany) parallels Roger's world and helps him to discover things about himself, and to overcome certain obstacles.

Roger's voice sounds so realistic, like there really is a Roger out there somewhere. You know what, of course there are. And I'm rooting for all of them.

R&R series &copy Karin E. Lips 2008, 2009 and beyond

Karin Elizabeth
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