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Sun July 20, 2014
How Bad Can He Be? Only The 'Worst. Person. Ever.'
Originally published on Sun July 20, 2014 10:08 am
ARUN RATH, HOST:
Usually, when I do an interview, I'm the one asking the questions. But when I sat down with writer Douglas Coupland, he had some questions for me.
DOUG COUPLAND: Have you ever tried to get rid of a body?
RATH: Not a human body, no. Some I was unqualified to answer.
COUPLAND: Why do different parts of the body taste different? Why does liver taste like liver, and why does tongue taste like - ugh - tongue?
RATH: And for some reason, this.
COUPLAND: Have you ever done a musical?
RATH: Like high school kind of stuff.
COUPLAND: I can't say.
RATH: I like karaoke.
COUPLAND: I live in fear of karaoke. My God, we're digressing. OK.
RATH: Digressing from our real topic, Coupland's new novel. It's called "Worst. Person. Ever." It's a profane and shocking book that centers around a completely loathsome individual named Raymond Gunt.
COUPLAND: OK, imagine there's this really bitter English guy who had Tourette's, and swore all the time. Except, he doesn't have Tourette's, he just swears a lot, like a lot. To the point where it almost becomes like, performance art.
RATH: Raymond is struggling to pay off debt he's acquired making bad decisions in his miserable life. So he ends up taking a job as a cameraman on a remote island for a reality show.
COUPLAND: Which is an extremely thinly veiled version of "Survivor," which is a show I love, by the way.
RATH: Raymond has no idea what he's getting into. He also has no clue that he really is the worst person ever.
COUPLAND: Of course, he thinks of himself as being like Jason Bourne except he doesn't have a chin over the course of the book. Every woman he's ever really done wrong in his life magically appears one by one until they are all - I hope this doesn't spoil things - trapped on an island together.
RATH: (Laughing) Right. And Raymond, as you said, well, he doesn't really think he's done anyone wrong. He tends to blame the world for what happens to him.
COUPLAND: Oh no, he thinks he's a fine upstanding citizen. You know. Oh, by the way - oh, I just realized I would like you to say, if you could right now, that you found the book funny.
RATH: I found the book hilarious. I laughed out lout a bunch of times.
COUPLAND: I wanted to, like, leverage that it was funny in the interview, because book's editors can do this really naughty thing where they take a book and they give it to the complete wrong person to review it. Which means a great review but it just makes life difficult for the person on the receiving end.
RATH: It was hilarious. I don't remember the last time I read a novel and laughed out loud so many times.
COUPLAND: Music to my ears.
RATH: But I will tell you that, while it was hilarious and I literally couldn't put it down...
COUPLAND: You were entertained against your will.
RATH: (Laughing) I was. Well, there's partly that because - I don't quite know how I feel about this book.
RATH: Meaning that it's hilarious but it's 300 pages of vulgarity almost without lapse.
COUPLAND: I tried and taught myself as things progressed.
RATH: Do you think that's an unfair description?
COUPLAND: My editor did say, like, well, can Raymond just have Tourette's? And that way it becomes cute and funny. It's like, no, he's just English. And this is what he does.
RATH: You know, I've already seen some reviews of this book, and you've been attacked for it because Raymond comes across, at least, as misogynist and homophobic and misanthropic and yeah, all of these horrible things. And I don't know a lot about you but as from what you've written and things that you've said, I don't think that you're those things.
COUPLAND: Well, that's sort of like, is Angela Lansbury an ax murderer?
RATH: (Laughing) Right.
COUPLAND: The thing about characters, and this is weird - I mean, I've been doing this for 14 books now - is you start writing a book, and then, about a quarter of the way in usually, the characters basically write the book itself. And you're just sitting there channeling it. And so in the case of Raymond, dum-da-dum-da-dum, oh, my god. I can't believe he just did that. Wait, technically I just did that, didn't I? What's going on here? And that was - of all the characters I've done, he's the one that I don't know where he came from or whatever. He just like - blegh.
RATH: In a way I find that comforting because if you were here telling me that, oh, yeah, Raymond, I know that guy, I'd be a bit concerned.
COUPLAND: I have no idea where - well, characters in general.
RATH: Well, you're a literary writer. And again, I couldn't close this book. I felt like there's a point to this. But it's not like - there's no redemption.
COUPLAND: Oh, he has no socially redeeming value whatsoever. Every book I do is different from the ones that preceded it. Everything new should offer some chance to change the reader in some way. And with this book, I kind of want you to feel like what would it be like to be hit from fire hoses from seven different directions at full blast and then they turn off and you're just kind of standing there, like, tingly and little cartoon stars sort of flying around the top of your head. And one of the reasons I wrote the book is just 'cause things have been so grim in a lot of ways. And there's sort of this epidemic of earnestness. And why not just go against that trend and write something that might actually damage a person's soul if they read it.
RATH: So thank you for damaging my soul.
COUPLAND: What's the opposite of a vitamin?
RATH: It's like a detrimin?
COUPLAND: No, it's like one of those hamburgers that has, like, chicken with, like, two meat patties, a bun...
RATH: A Big Mac.
COUPLAND: It is that.
RATH: Douglas Coupland, it's been a wild pleasure speaking with you.
COUPLAND: Oh, thanks so much.
RATH: Douglas Coupland's new novel is called "Worst. Person. Ever." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.