Review

The Gum Thief

by Douglas Coupland

Roger is 43 years old and riding a boozy downward life trend.
Divorced from his wife after her battle with a nonfatal cancer,
mourning his son's death and having lost any reasonable job he's
ever had, Roger is now working a soul-sucking job at Staples where
he accidentally leaves his diary in the employee break room.

Roger's young co-worker Bethany finds the journal. She reads it,
including entries Roger has written from Bethany's point of view.
Goth goddess Bethany joins in, writing her own entries in Roger's
journal, with the provision that neither ever acknowledges their
correspondence "in the real world."

Roger also begins penning episodes of his novel-in-progress, GLOVE
POND, which incorporates bits of his real world, mirroring his own
life in the main character's disillusionments and inadequacies.
Bethany is delighted with Glove Pond's depiction of small lives
even as she yearns for a larger one of her own.

Correspondences from others join Bethany and Roger's entries along
with the Glove Pond chapters. Bethany's mother, DeeDee, once
endured a humiliating date with Roger at Denny's. She writes to
plead with Roger not to engage with her daughter. DeeDee harbors
the universal maternal high hopes that Bethany will return to
school and better herself.

Letters from Roger's ex-wife, Joan, detail the puzzling appearance
of a young Goth girl skulking about outside Joan's home. When
invited inside, Bethany tells Joan that she's concerned about
Roger. She believes that his problems with depression and alcohol
mean he is in serious, mortal danger. Bethany hopes that Joan can
help Roger stop his downward spiral somehow. Crushingly, Joan
informs Roger that she is troubled about a vulnerable young girl
getting involved with a man who is a chronic loser.

Meanwhile, an employee steals gum at Staples. The criminal is
caught on security camera video and fired. Managers take the
opportunity to harangue the remaining employees, causing the
already rockbottom collective morale to plunge into a subterranean
black hole.

Bethany ponders whether her future lies in traipsing through Europe
or studying for a nursing degree. Her entries tell of her
reciprocal concern for her mother's life and future. Can DeeDee
turn her own nothing life around? Bethany notes that DeeDee feels
incapable of even carrying off a successful suicide; DeeDee thinks
she would end up rescued, humiliated and in a wheelchair.

As Roger and Bethany disclose themselves to each other, a curious
(and touching) intimacy grows between them. Yet their story is
bracingly bitter and off-kilter without one hint of sappy
sweetness. Despite quite a bit of introspective chat, the format
and personalities keep the pace lively in this very black and quite
hilarious tale of lives careening out of control --- making for a
unique and absorbing read.

Reviewed by Terry Miller Shannon (terryms2001@yahoo.com) on January 22, 2011

The Gum Thief
by Douglas Coupland

  • Publication Date: October 2, 2007
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
  • ISBN-10: 1596911069
  • ISBN-13: 9781596911062