The story tells of the victims, direct or indirect, of a high school massacre a la the Columbine shooting. It’s neatly segmented into four narratives: Cheryl, the 17-year-old school-going Christian girl; Jason, the husband she had secretly wed in Las Vegas; Heather, the woman who falls in love with the disenchanted Jason years after the shooting; and Reg, Jason’s estranged father.
The centrifugal force of the novel is Jason, whose emotional state of mind is like a ripple on a still pond that upsets the tranquility of the surface of the water. His grief and anger over the incident, as well as subsequent events, are like emotional baggages that he never shook off, not even when he is in a relationship with Heather.
There is something realistic about Coupland’s first person perspective of the characters – they do present to us as four different voices at different stages of maturity in their lives. Cheryl is like Cassie Bernall and her simple and pragmatic way of looking at her life, and recounting the details of the shooting while being in limbo is touching and yet honest. Her frank opinion of herself as nondescript, her lack of intimacy with her family, her pure love for Jason, her uncertain and yet stoic belief in God – they tell the story of someone who is halfway between being a child and an adult.
As for Jason, his disengagement with life after the massacre is a tapestry of many seemingly contrasting things: endearing yet cold, poignant yet harsh. His revelation that he has never really gotten over Cheryl, and his obvious deep love for his dog, Joyce, stings and warms your heart. Along the way, Coupland throws in a couple of surprises in Jason’s life that stuns you for a moment and keeps you flipping the pages, dying for more answers.
The story of Heather may seem a little misfit here as she was never part of the massacre. But her narrative reveals to us how, through her, Jason finally finds someone that he can connect with, although never fully trust. She is also the unlikely link to the next narrator, Reg.
Reg is perhaps the character that has the most changes wrought in that slender tome. He gradually shifts from a cruelly cold and religious man to someone who once loved and was loved, and finally, a broken man seeking the affection and understanding from his son. He seeks solace in felllow misfit, Heather, and builds up an strangely strong and discomfitting friendship with her.
The book doesn’t seek to justify the violence, nor is it concerned about the killers. It seeks, rather, to expose the emotional depths of its victims and its introspective take is hauntingly compelling to read. The denouement of Hey Nostradamus is not one of resolution but rather, a question to another question, which makes you sit and ponder about what you had just read.
All in all, one of the best contemporary books that I have read recently.