First-chapter Review: Terry by Douglas Coupland

For some reason, I have this image of Russell Smith at a public talk advising that you shouldn’t read the back-cover of a book to find out if you’d like it, but to read the first few pages. In the absence of my own reviewer’s copy, I’ve done something similar: a first-chapter critique. Each week the Globe and Mail posts the first chapter of one of the books reviewed in its book section. Before reading this week’s review of Douglas Coupland’s Terry, I decided to review the first chapter, which is a short nugget of an introduction.

The Terry of the title is the unequivocal Canadian hero, Terry Fox. Coupland’s interest in the Marathon of Hope runner is an outgrowth of his two Souvenir of Canada collections, which, along with Terry, are explorations for Canadians into “our nation, our home and our soul.” These explorations are different from those of, say, the Confederation Poets, who immortalised rocks and pines and lakes and stuff, or the Expo 67 nationalism of the sixties and seventies. Coupland’s routes are through design and commercialism and, image and media.

Coupland’s opening chapter elegantly captures Fox’s effect on the Canadian consciousness with glimpses at archived letters and cards sent to the runner during his marathon. They range from sad confessions, “Leenane from Victoria has breast cancer and is worried that soon she’ll be too weak to drive, so she won’t be able to get her daughter to her violin lessons on time,” and slightly delusional declarations, “Helen, from Toronto had five children who all left home decades ago. Terry, I think of you as the son who never left.” It may be harsh to characterise Helen’s feelings as delusional, but she’s making quite the imaginative leap: the man running across Canada on her TV is the one child who didn’t move away.

Coupland is sympathetic to Helen’s delusion. His Canadian soul searching, through objects and images, including that of Terry Fox, requires an imaginative leap similar to that of the lonely mother. A mind must jump from the parts—stubby bottles, plastic table-hockey figures and a curly-haired man running down a highway with one prosthetic leg—to a whole nation’s soul. Both delusions can be dangerous, but those of Helen and Coupland seem benign. Helen simply wants to express the strong feelings brought out by a courageous runner and Coupland wants to capture his feelings for his country.

Read the first chapter of Terry.

Read the John Burns’ review of Terry.

Leave a Comment

You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>