Hey Nostradamus!

Publisher: Vintage Canada

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.


Part One
1998: Cheryl

I believe that what separates humanity from everything else in this world -- spaghetti, binder paper, deep-sea creatures, edelweiss and Mount McKinley -- is that humanity alone has the capacity at any given moment to commit all possible sins. Even those of us who try to live a good...
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1. Discuss Cheryl’s description of the events in the cafeteria. Does her step-by-step account and her sense of calm make the actions of the young shooters seem more or less real? Is there immediacy here, or distance?

2. Which of the novel’s four narrative voices did you connect with the most? Which the...

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“[Douglas Coupland’s] focus is always on the moral implications, on human relationships and feelings. There is an almost spiritual aspect to his work that makes it emotionally compelling, and redemption is always at hand to pull his vision back from the brink of apocalypse. But more important perhaps, Coupland can write beautifully.” -- Toronto Star

“Coupland, once the wise guy of Generation X, has become a wise man.” -- People Magazine

"Fate is the psychological trigger in this often-hilarious novel, and Coupland knows when to trip the emotional safety catch." -- Elle Canada

"In Hey Nostradamus!, Coupland takes an insightful look at religion, loss and forgiveness and how everyone is always looking for, as he puts it, the 'equation that makes it all equate.' " -- Calgary Herald

“…[I]n Hey Nostradamus!, Coupland has fashioned his most serious and mature novel so far, mixing his youthful, exuberant prose with a certain compassion and restraint we haven’t seen from him before.…The leading literary voice of the most cynical generation lets it all out in a blaze of spirituality, terror, high comedy and soul-searching, and does it all in a way that is caring and clever, heart-breaking and hilarious, tough and tender. Hey Nostradamus! is not only Coupland’s best novel, but also one of the best of the year.” -- Hamilton Spectator

“…profoundly topical…[R]eligious angst has never been made so entertaining.” -- National Post

“Coupland’s writing is brilliant.” -- Canadian Press

“ …[Coupland] gets us thinking about spirituality and the meaning of life, and no matter how bad things get, when you put the book down you can’t help but feel hope, which is a comfort.” -- Georgia Straight

“…moving and tenderly beautiful….replete with Coupland’s breathtaking observations on consumer culture.” -- Vancouver Sun

Praise for Douglas Coupland:
“The intelligence and humour of Coupland’s prose engages the mind while the unabashed yearning of his characters hooks the heart.” -- Maclean’s

Praise for All Families Are Psychotic:
“As rich as an ovenful of fresh-baked brownies and twice as nutty. . . . Everyone with a strange family -- that is, everyone with a family -- will laugh knowingly at the feuding, conducted with a maestro’s ear for dialogue and a deep understanding of humanity. Coupland, once the wise guy of Generation X, has become a wise man.” -- People magazine

“It seemed paradoxical that a writer so revered for his hipness resembles, in practice, nobody so much as Jane Austen.... In the resultant unravelling there isn't a boring page.” -- The Literary Review

Praise for Miss Wyoming:
“The intelligence and humour of Coupland’s prose engages the mind while the unabashed yearning of his characters hooks the heart.” -- Maclean’s