Ethan Jarlewski and five co-workers whose surnames end in 'J' are bureaucratically marooned in JPod. JPod is a no-escape architectural limbo on the fringes of a massive Vancouver game design company. The six workers daily confront the forces that define our era: global piracy, boneheaded marketing staff, people smuggling, the rise of China, marijuana grow-ops, Jeff Probst, and the ashes of the 1990s financial tech dream. JPod's universe is amoral and shameless. The characters are products of their era even as they're creating it. Everybody in Ethan's life inhabits a moral grey zone. Nobody is exempt, not even his seemingly straitlaced parents or Coupland himself. Full of word games, visual jokes and sideways jabs, this book throws a sharp, pointed lawn dart into the heart of contemporary life.
Already dubbed Microserfs 2.0 by some pundits--a winking allusion to Douglas Coupland's previous novel Microserfs, which similarly chronicled pop-culture-damaged twentysomething misfits flailing, foundering, and occasionally succeeding in the high-tech sector-- JPod is, like all of Coupland's novels, a byproduct of its era and yet strangely detached from it. Only this time with a bold and very crafty narrative device: Douglas Coupland, novelist, is a character in Douglas Coupland's novel. Which, when you think about it, makes sense since the type of people Coupland depicts are precisely the type of people who consume Coupland novels. As the once-great comedian Dennis Miller might holler, "Stop him before he sub-references again!" Readers familiar with Coupland's oeuvre know what to expect with the characterizations here. They also know that Coupland on a roll is both savagely observant and laugh-out-loud funny: "Bree was showing someone photos of her recent holiday visiting Korean animation sweathshops. She was bummed because she couldn't get into North Korea: too much legal juju. [She said] 'I just wanted to know what it's like to be in a society with no technology except for three dial telephones and a TV camera they won from Fidel Castro in a game of rock paper scissors.'" Much of the book is like that, built on granular and meandering exchanges between characters about . . . stuff. While JPod's flow is hobbled by some preposterous twists and character traits and by random words, phrases, and numbers splattered gratuitously across successive pages in oversized typeface, it's hard to imagine Coupland fans walking away disappointed. --Kim Hughes