The Gum Thief hits every nerve any typical Coupland novel is bound to aim for. Theme-wise, this one is no different from his other works – that’s to say it includes postmodern musings about life and death, apocalypse and end-of-the-world scenarios, quasi-loving relationships between strangers and family, happiness, sadness, and random facts about animals and spleen cancer. Simply put, it’s the same Coupland you’ve read if you’ve read any of his other works. This is not to say I didn’t love it, and in no way is this novel trite. Though his writing talent sometimes falls by the wayside in unrelated tangents (like what parts of your body would actually disappear in a rapture), Coupland’s ability at navigating complicated plotlines is always forefront. On its most surface level, The Gum Thief is about a middle-aged divorced man named Roger, and a young Goth woman, Bethany, who both work at a Staples. The two share nothing in common – it seems – except tremendous loss and a seeming inability to move forward with their lives. But then, rather by accident, they strike up a pen-pal-like friendship. The whole thing is written as letters between the two, with the occasional additional word from random others. Roger is also writing a novel called Glove Pond, which makes for a complicated story-within-a-story (-within-a-story) narrative.
Coupland is master of the clash of black and white, and works in dichotomies. This is, you’ll learn, typical of his distinct style. His books manage to be simultaneously laugh-out-loud hilarious and soul-crushingly sad; unbelievable, and yet astutely observant of those common real-life experiences that unite the human race. On top of that, I’m always of two minds when reading Coupland’s fiction: am I taking this way too seriously, or am I just scratching the surface of this novel’s meaning? It’s…confusing. And it’s what keeps me coming back, book after gloriously weird book.
For more about the author, his writing, and his visual art, visit his website here.