On a snowy Saturday night in 1979, after making love for the first time, high school senior Karen Ann McNeil confides the dark visions she's been suffering to her boyfriend, Richard. Only a few hours later she descends into a coma. Nine months after that, she gives birth to a daughter, Megan, her child by Richard.
Karen remains comatose for the next 18 years. Richard and her circle of friends reside in an emotional purgatory throughout the next two decades, passing through careers as models, film special-effects technicians, doctors and demolition experts before finally being reunited while working on a conspiracy-driven supernatural series.
Upon Karen's reawakening, life grows as surreal as the television show. Strange, apocalyptic events begin to occur. Later, amid the world's rubble, Karen, Richard and their friends attempt to restore their own humanity.
In this latest novel from the poet laureate of Gen X--who is himself now a dangerously mature 36--boy does indeed meet girl. The year is 1979, and the lovers get right down to business in a very Couplandian bit of plein air intercourse: "Karen and I deflowered each other atop Grouse Mountain, among the cedars beside a ski slope, atop crystal snow shards beneath penlight stars. It was a December night so cold and clear that the air felt like the air of the Moon--lung-burning; mentholated and pure; hint of ozone, zinc, ski wax, and Karen's strawberry shampoo." Are we in for an archetypal '80s romance, played out against a pop-cultural backdrop? Nope. Only hours after losing her virginity, Karen loses consciousness as well--for almost two decades. The narrator and his circle soldier on, making the slow progression from debauched Vancouver youths to semiresponsible adults. Several end up working on a television series that bears a suspicious resemblance to The X-Files (surely a self-referential wink on the author's part). And then ... Karen wakes up. Her astonishment--which suggests a 20th-century, substance-abusing Rip Van Winkle--dominates the second half of the novel, and gives Coupland free reign to muse about time, identity, and the meaning (if any) of the impending millennium. Alas, he also slaps a concluding apocalypse onto the novel. As sleeping sickness overwhelms the populace, the world ends with neither a bang nor a whimper, but a universal yawn--which doesn't, fortunately, outweigh the sweetness, oddity, and ironic smarts of everything that has preceded it.