Douglas Coupland (Well, Not Technically)

Douglas Coupland (Well, Not Technically)

Douglas Coupland is a Canadian artist and author who frequently sets his novels in Washington state. And his books aren't just set in Washington, they are also about Washington in an indefinable way that made me incredibly homesick when I re-read several of his books while spending a year on a contract job in Atlanta.
 
Coupland's home is Vancouver, which is a pretty good stand-in for the suburbs around Seattle, which is where a lot of his action is set. His second novel, Shampoo Planet, is set in the fictional town of Lancaster, WA. Lancaster is a ghost town, having been abandoned by its single largest employer, The Plants. It could be any of a number of towns in Washington, where industries from Boeing to the timber industry have slowly collapsed or moved elsewhere.

 
Reading it, I imagined it as Everett, since that's a town I have been familiar with since childhood. I was also put in mind of Aberdeen, a coastal town that collapsed with the timber industry. (Aberdeen's shopping mall is certainly empty enough to qualify.) Everett was prosperous in the 50s and 60s, but has been in slow decline ever since (although it got a bump in the late 90s as a bedroom community, as Seattle's rising home prices pushed people farther afield).
 
Where the town of Shampoo Planet is depressed (both economically and spiritually), the Redmond of Coupland's 1995 book Microserfs is a boom town. The book is set in the Eastside's hard-core computer programming geek culture and written in 1995, when Microsoft was at the peak of its game. It is peppered with descriptions of rolling swaths of green space (not parks; green space) and corporate lawns. And I seem to recall that the protagonists often eat at chain restaurants like Chilis, as you do in Redmond.
 
The book's description of all the geeks who live in a "geek house" was also right on. I have lived in several geek houses, myself. Everyone has more money than time or sense, so you end up with a lot of cables strung all over hell and gone, and huge drifts of take-out food containers obscuring the kitchen counters.
 
Microserfs is optimistic but overworked, while Shampoo Planet is broke and unemployed. These two sides of the Washington coin are depicted just so, and pretty much cover the two states of Washington. 
 
What is conspicuously missing from Coupland's books is Seattle itself. I always thought this was an interesting omission, given that Seattle casts such a long shadow over the towns where his books are set. It's a question I have always wanted to ask him, but until I have a chance (perhaps at some signing event) I can only speculate!