The narrator of Worst. Person. Ever. may not be worthy of that title, but throughout Douglas Coupland’s new novel he sure tries to be. Raymond Gunt is a self-destructive, narcissistic horndog with a penchant for both getting into trouble and eating things that don’t agree with him. He’s an asshole. He’s a cad. And he is gut-bustingly hilarious. With this book, Coupland proves the old adage to be true: If you’re going to be offensive, you better be funny while you’re doing it.
Gunt is a B-unit cameraman with no job, a sadistic lesbian of an ex-wife, and the social graces of a bonobo. Sent by his ex to a tiny Pacific island to film a reality show (think Survivor, but with more side-boob), Gunt enlists a homeless man as his assistant and begins an odyssey that rivals Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle in its absurdity. Interacting with the show’s producers, the U.S. Army, a group of nubile young women referred to as “Thong Kong,” and an unfortunate surprise visit from his mother, Gunt sinks deeper and deeper into depravity, all the while claiming his virtue as a man and lover.
Readers aren’t meant to like Gunt, but his disturbingly vulgar wit manages to make him somewhat endearing, or at least tolerable as he pushes past the boundaries of good taste and basic humanity. He might be more disturbing if the people around him weren’t cretins as well. Coupland’s cast of characters is a collection of liars, reprobates, crazies, and the occasional sexual deviant, all of whom have their own hilarious quirks. Calling Raymond the worst person ever among this group is similar to pointing out who has the best salute at a Nazi rally.
Essentially an extended shaggy-dog story, Worst. Person. Ever. meanders along until it ends on a strangely hopeful note, but the journey is substantially more interesting than the destination. The book takes aim at the American surveillance state, cultural imperialism, modern media, and half a dozen other problems from the 21st century, but Coupland’s satire never lands on a single subject for very long. He’s content to heighten the already-insane aspects of the real world, instead of shoehorning in some sort of message into the novel. That’s a relief, because any hint of seriousness would have bogged it down.
While the ending feels a bit abrupt, Coupland keeps up the madcap pace for so long that any cessation of the craziness would probably have felt like a letdown. That he manages to make Gunt’s situation worse, and more hilarious, with each page is staggering. Coupland has been beautifully profound in previous work, but here he aims simply to entertain, and does a bang-up job of it.