For the past several weeks I’ve been enjoying my first audiobook experience during my commute to and from work. I purchased Douglas Coupland’s novel Hey Nostradamus! because I think it was the first book of his I didn’t read and was always curious about it. I love Coupland’s work—in fact, both Microserfs and Miss Wyoming count among my favorite novels of all time—and haven’t read much since just before grad school.
Hey Nostradamus is a novel in monologues, which I think makes it an easy transfer to the audiobook format. The novel surrounds a 1989 school shooting in which the first of the novel’s characters, Cheryl, is killed by a classmate. Other voices in the novel are Jason (speaking from 1999), Cheryl’s boyfriend who misses rescuing her by a mere two minutes; Heather (speaking from 2002), Jason’s girlfriend ten years later; and Reg (speaking in 2003), Jason’s holy roller father.
The novel was very affecting to hear read in these voices. Accounts of the school massacre unfold in each voice’s unique perspective bit by bit with horrifying detail. But more than journalism, Hey Nostradamus! is really an account of our relationship to faith. Cheryl, a devout Christian, faces her belief system as she narrates from somewhere she describes as not on earth and not in Heaven, either. Jason’s adult bitterness seeps into every perception he has about the world. Heather’s willingness to believe just about anything proves to be her near-downfall—and probably her greatest asset. And Jason’s father looks back on a life lived in Christianity and wonders if he lived his life righteously—or with pride and vanity.
When each voice began speaking, I wanted to resist it. I wanted to dislike each new character as they began to tell me about their life, their memories, their fears, but after about twenty minutes that feeling vanished. The narration was so compelling and interesting—a good balance between plot momentum and characterization—that I was equally sad each time a character’s section ended.
Coupland’s books always tend to explore the ways in which we hope for the best in the world and the things we do to locate in ourselves something resembling faith. Although his work always seems so rooted in the secular, I’ve felt strongly that Coupland is one of our most reverent writers, always addressing issues of mortality, of conviction, and of the failings of our modern world to effectively caretake our lives and relationships. In the end, Coupland suggests, it is through our most intimate relationships that we uncover the faith we need to make it through the world.