Hey Nostradamus!

Front Cover
Random House of Canada, Limited, 2004 - Fiction - 256 pages
23 Reviews

Using the voices of four characters deeply affected by a high-school shooting, though in remarkably different ways, Douglas Coupland explores the lingering aftermath of one horrifying event, and questions what it means to come through grief – and to survive.

The first narrator in Hey Nostradamus! is Cheryl, who is waiting in the Delbrook Senior Secondary cafeteria for Jason, to whom she is secretly married. Just that morning, she told him she is pregnant. But before Jason arrives, three younger students wearing combat fatigues storm the cafeteria and open fire on their classmates. Cheryl is the last to be killed. Hiding under a table, she speaks to us from a place between life and death, and tells the story of her relationship with Jason, her conversion to Christianity, and her deep love of God, despite her inability to find meaning in this massacre. Unlike her Youth Alive! classmates and peers, who display a harsh and superficial religious fervour, she has truly embraced her faith. “I may have looked like just another stupid teenage girl, but it was all there – God, and sorrow and its acceptance.”

The second narrator is Cheryl’s widower, Jason, writing an open letter to his brother’s twin sons, telling the story of his life to date and how the shooting has shaped it. It’s eleven years later, and, still haunted by Cheryl’s death, Jason has never been able to pull himself together – he cares little for his work, rarely speaks to anyone, and drinks far too much, too often, in an attempt to kill his pain (or at least not to think about it for a while). Jason also has an uneasy relationship with God, and sees the extreme Christian views of his ultra-conservative father, Reg, as one reason for his inability to succeed at life.

Then Jason meets Heather, who, like him, has a hard time dealing with reality. Together they create a world of their own, and live happily – until one day Jason disappears. It’s now 2002 and Heather, who narrates the third section of the novel diary-style, tells us about her life as a court stenographer, her relationship with Jason, and her growing but uncomfortable friendship with Reg. When she’s contacted by a psychic who claims she’s receiving messages from Jason, Heather is led to the brink of despair and back again to something resembling hope, or at least peace.

Reg narrates the last, and shortest, section of the novel. It’s 2003 and Reg is composing a letter to his missing son. It’s been fifteen years since the high-school massacre, but the effects continue to ripple through the lives of those it touched. Reg has begun to soften and to understand the harm he caused Jason and the rest of their family, and his letter forms a confession of sorts as he tries to be honest about his weaknesses. He is also more honest with himself, about his faith: “You might ask me whether I still believe in God; I do – and maybe not even in the best sense of the word ‘believe.’ In the end, it might boil down to some sort of insurance equation to the effect that it’s three percent easier to believe than not to believe.” But despite this calculating view of God, Reg also still holds out hope, as he sets off to post this letter everywhere his son may see it.

Four distinct characters tell four distinct yet entwined stories, as each tries to find his or her own way. And it is through their post-shooting experiences – their scarring exposure to the media or seemingly unrelated pit stops along life’s path – that Douglas Coupland finds the truer story of our collective need. Instead of following the chain of events leading up to the massacre or dwelling on the teenage killers, Coupland concentrates on its aftermath, its long-term effects. In doing so, he is able to make us really consider what it means to survive, and to continue to believe.

From the Hardcover edition.

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LibraryThing Review

User Review  - branimal - LibraryThing

It’s 1988. On a morning unlike any other at a suburban high school in Vancouver, 3 teens attempt to achieve the highest kill count in the history of school shootings. Flash forward 11 years into the ... Read full review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - BrianFannin - LibraryThing

Very quick read. I polished it off in two days while trying to take care of a 13 day-old daughter and her mother. That's lightening speed for me. To me it read like a depressed Nick Hornby, without ... Read full review

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About the author (2004)

On Douglas Coupland’s website, there is a photograph from his art installation, Tropical Birds (2003). The installation includes a scene based on the reports of how the cafeteria appeared to rescuers and officials after the massacre at Columbine High School: backpacks strewn across tables and the floor, chairs knocked over, lunches unfinished. The accompanying audio track plays the sounds of birdsong. The piece was born out of rescuers’ comments that the sound of cellphones and pagers ringing in student backpacks – “like birds chirping” – combined with the gush of sprinklers to seem almost surreally tropical. Of course, the horror is that the phones and pagers announced desperate parents trying to reach their children.

The 1999 Columbine massacre was one impetus for Hey Nostradamus!, as it and other events, such as the ╔cole Polytechnique shootings and the attacks of 9/11, prompted Coupland to look at how we collectively deal with horror, grief and faith. Even the epigraph for the book, a passage from 1 Corinthians, is taken from a headstone of one of the Columbine victims. Though he did not have a religious upbringing, Coupland considers himself a very religious person, and over the years has found himself more and more interested in exploring questions of God and belief in his work.

Coupland approached writing Hey Nostradamus! like he does all of his novels: as he would an artwork – for him, the media are the same. As he commented in one interview, “What I do know is that there are certain feelings you can create within yourself and within someone engaging with what you’ve done that you can only get from looking at an art object, that you can’t get from words, and vice versa. And I don’t make that many distinctions in my head, I don’t see them as being very different from each other. I entered writing with words quite literally being arts supplies as objects, through Jenny Holzer and text art, and then the text art became long-form fiction, so in my head, I think of the new book, or the new novel, as being an art exhibition, and it’s different from the books that came before it.”

In fact, Coupland originally set out to be a designer and artist, in the conventional sense. He graduated from the sculpture program at Vancouver’s Emily Carr College of Art and Design in 1984, then attended the European Design Institute in Milan, Italy, and the Hokkaido College of Art and Design in Sapporo, Japan. In 1986, he completed a two-year course in Japanese business science along with fine art and industrial design. After taking on writing projects over the years, Coupland happened upon fame as a novelist when his first book, Generation X (1991), achieved unexpected and meteoric success. Since then he has published fourteen books of fiction and non-fiction, including the novels Microserfs (1995), Miss Wyoming (1999) and All Families Are Psychotic (2001), and the bestselling cultural explorations City of Glass (2000), Souvenir of Canada (2002) and Souvenir of Canada 2 (2004). In all, his work has been translated into 22 languages and published in 30 countries.

Douglas Coupland writes because it is something he simply loves to do. “What I found over the years is that since 1991 we’ve been through massive cultural, social, technological changes, and the only thing that protects me or you or anyone, the only thing that can protect you in all this is figuring out what it is that you like to do, and then sticking with it. Because once you start to do what people expect you to do, or what your parents think you should do, or whoever in your life thinks you should do, you’re sunk.” However, when one interviewer commented on his seemingly prolific writing career, Coupland disagreed. “I’m not the least bit prolific,” he responded. “I look at people with hard jobs and kids, and to me they’re the ones who are fantastically prolific.”

Though he was born on a Canadian Armed Forces base in Baden-S÷llingen, Germany, in 1961, Douglas Coupland has made the Vancouver area his home since the age of four, and can hardly imagine living anywhere else. He currently lives in West Vancouver, in a Ron Thon-designed house, where he works as a writer, designer and visual artist. His art has recently appeared in San Francisco, Milan and Vancouver, and will be featured in upcoming shows in Toronto, London and Montreal. He has won two Canadian National Awards for Excellence in Industrial Design, and Hey Nostradamus! was nominated for the 2004 Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best Book (Canada & Caribbean) and won the Canadian Authors Association Award for Fiction.

From the Hardcover edition.

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