The eponymous heroine of Miss Wyoming is one Susan Colgate, a teen beauty queen and low-rent soap actress. Dragooned into show business by her demonically pushy, hillbilly mother, Susan has hit rock bottom by the time Douglas Coupland’s seventh book begins. But when she finds herself the sole survivor of an airplane crash, this “low-grade onboard celebrity” takes the opportunity to start all over again:
She felt like a ghost. She tried to find her bodily remains there in the wreckage and was unable to do so…. Then she was lost in a crowd of local onlookers and trucks, parping sirens and ambulances. She picked her way out of the melee and found a newly paved suburban road that she followed away from the wreck into the folds of a housing development. She had survived, and now she needed sanctuary and silence.
She’s not, of course, the only Hollywood burnout who’d like to vanish into thin air. Her opposite number, a producer of big-budget, no-brainer action flicks named John Johnson, stages a similar disappearing act. After a near-death experience, in the course of which he is treated to a vision of Susan’s face, he roams the western badlands. And even after his return to L.A., Johnson is determined to unravel the mystery of this woman’s fate.
Throughout, Coupland displays his usual gift for capturing the absurdities of modern existence. The distinctive minutiae of our age–junk mail and fast food, sitcoms and Singapore slings, and the “shop fronts bigger and brighter and more powerful than they needed to be”–come to vivid, funny life in this author’s hands. And while Susan and John occupy center stage, Coupland is just as generous with his peripheral characters. A scriptwriter and his supernaturally intelligent girlfriend, a recluse who spends his evening generating Internet rumours–all manage to be blessed and cursed, numbed by their pointless existences but full of humanity when put to the test. Picture Joseph Heller and Kurt Vonnegut collaborating on a Tinseltown version of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and you come halfway to grasping Coupland’s brand of thoughtful, supremely funny storytelling.