12th September 2003 at 01:00
HEY NOSTRADAMUS! By Douglas Coupland. Flamingo pound;10.99

In suburban Vancouver in 1988, a massacre by teenage gunmen in a high school cafeteria robs Jason Klaasen of his secret 16-year-old wife, Cheryl Anway, whose thoughts form the first part of this moving novel. Though Jason's well-aimed pitch of a stray boulder helps to stop the killing, in 1999 he is still haunted by his failure to save the girl he loved - and even more haunted by public opinion which pointed the finger of blame at him for his inarticulacy, his heroism and his survival.

With an alcoholic mother and a religious fundamentalist father, his life takes an even sharper downward turn when his older brother dies. Then Heather comes into his life. Switching points of view (Cheryl to Jason to Heather and finally to Jason's mad father Reg), Coupland uses a multiplicity of voices to work out his sense of the joyous abundance and hopeless inadequacy of human existence, all refracted through the trauma of the massacre.

This is a much deeper analysis of violence and social exclusion than the solemn commentary one usually reads about Columbine high school and similar events, and one which lingers in the mind long after the theorising has dissipated, like a still photograph.

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