Paperback edition cover
|July 2, 2004|
|Media type||Print (Hardcover & Paperback)|
|LC Class||PS3553.O855 H49 2004|
|Preceded by||All Families Are Psychotic|
|Followed by||Eleanor Rigby|
Hey Nostradamus! is a novel by Douglas Coupland centred on a fictional 1988 school shooting in suburban Vancouver, British Columbia and its aftermath. This is Coupland's most critically acclaimed novel. It was first published by Random House of Canada in 2003. The novel comprises four first-person narratives, each from the perspective of a character directly or indirectly affected by the shooting. The novel intertwines substantial themes, including adolescent love, sex, religion, prayer and grief.
The novel follows the stories of victims of a fictional school shooting in North Vancouver in 1988. Coupland has expressed his concern that the killers of the Columbine High School massacre received more focus than the victims; this is his story about the victims of tragedy. The novel is told in four parts, each with a different narrator and focus.
This part of the book is told post-mortem by Cheryl, a girl killed in the fictional school shooting at Delbrook Senior Secondary. Cheryl, from a purgatorial ante-state, recounts the events that led up to the shooting, involving her secret trip to Las Vegas to marry her boyfriend Jason. She also describes with a first person perspective what was happening in the cafeteria while the school shooting was taking place.
Cheryl describes her relationship to God, her relationship to her group of religious minded friends and their "Youth Alive!" group, and her relationship to her husband, Jason. She speaks about her life with a frank, open nature, not afraid of anything, as she is beyond the grave.
We also listen in to the prayers of people still in the incident and of those thinking about the incident. It is explained that only prayers and curses can carry through to the afterlife. The text indents the prayers in the section, presenting them without interaction with Cheryl's character, as stand-alone external perceptions of the incident.
During the shooting, Cheryl is trapped under a table at the center of the cafeteria. While the killers are making their way through the crowd, one of them decides that he has had enough with the killing, and wants to stop. The other killers decide that he has become weak, and kill him. They then turn their attention to Cheryl and her friends, and Cheryl becomes the final casualty.
This section is a letter from Jason to his two nephews. We learn about what happened to Jason during and after the shooting at Delbrook. During the killing, Jason sees the killers running rampant, and finds a river-rock in a planter and after the one killer's turn of conscience, Jason throws the rock, killing one of the shooters. However, he is too late to save Cheryl, who dies in his arms. Discovered thus by the police, Jason is initially treated as a suspect: an additional level of tragedy for Jason, further intensified by the mainstream media's sensationalistic exploitation of this mistake. As a result of this irresponsible treatment of the events by corporate media, the families in the school, including Cheryl's parents, believe Jason guilty and variously shun and abuse him.
The media then further misrepresent Jason by reporting, without research, that Jason had been seen before the shooting roughing up an accusatory Youth Alive! member over alleged impropriety in his relationship with Cheryl, whom Jason had in fact privately married in a Las Vegas chapel.
When Jason arrives home from the shooting incident, the RCMP talk to Jason's parents. They tell them that Jason is a hero for taking out one of the killers. His father, however, does not see this. Reg has an excessively legalistic Christianity, and he reacts to the news that his son has taken a life with an extreme literalism and a confusingly condescending reaction. Jason's mother, in this moment, breaks down, and attacks and seriously wounds her husband Reg which damages their relationship to the point of irreparability.
In the letter, forming this section of the book, Jason details the enduring and corrosive effects on his state of mind caused by his frenzied mistreatment by the media, and his dogged attempts to restore himself. He further details the pain caused by his father's openly preferential treatment of elder brother Kent, a leader in the Youth Alive! movement: pain intensified by Kent's early death and the attendant loss of opportunity for reconciliation.
Jason's story continues from this beginning, as he tries to come to terms with the facts that life has presented him. He enters into a dark world very different from where he expects to see himself. He experiences several moments of black-out near the end of his letter, becoming disoriented and lost. However, Jason is presented with another chance to kill, again in self-defense, but he restrains himself. This choice of life over death provides him with a kind of redemption.
The secondary plot movement of the part involves the death of Kent. Kent's memorial is a scene of a large fight between Kent's widow, Barb, and Reg. The fight is based over whether or not twins both have souls. Reg says that one twin would be without a soul, which to Barb, the mother of twins, is appalled. This sends Reg into another dark spiral. Reg ends up at one point in the hospital, and only Jason goes to visit him there.
This part of the novel is narrated by Heather, a woman with whom Jason has eventually been able to achieve trust and intimacy. Jason has now gone missing, and Heather is keeping a journal to remember and deal with her loss of him. In a vain search for Jason, Heather is befriended by a con-artist named Allison who fraudulently presents herself to Heather as a psychic in order to extort money in exchange for (false) news of Jason. Allison provides Heather with information that only Jason would have. Jason and Heather's relationship began in a Toys "R" Us, with Jason purchasing toys for his nephews. Jason and Heather begin to create their own characters and stories for their characters, which is the information provided by Allison back to Heather. Heather also talks about her relationship to Reg, who is undergoing fundamental changes due to the loss of both of his children. Heather's interactions with Reg bring Reg back to a more humane Christianity, while bringing Heather to consider faith, where she had hitherto been staunchly against it.
Jason is still missing, and this part is narrated by Reg as a lament for his lost son. This section is told by Reg as an atonement for his previous actions as he has come to realize the faults in his particular belief system. He is writing a letter to Jason which he is going to post on the trees around the forest, hoping his son reads the letter, realises that his father has undergone a transformation, and comes home to him. The section, which climactically ends the book, is a paean of exultation.
- Cheryl is the first narrator of the story. She is a young grade 12 student, who is a victim of the infamous Delbrook Secondary School massacre. Cheryl grew up in a non-religious environment but becomes religious, through her pursuit of Jason. Her family follows an agnostic mentality, and dislike Cheryl's newfound faith. Cheryl is the last fatality, before Jason storms in, and kills Mitchell with a blunt round object. Cheryl narrates between her former life, and oblivion. Jason and Cheryl wed in Las Vegas, using fake IDs purchased by Jason. She informs Jason that she is pregnant with his child, just a few hours before the massacre occurs.
- A quiet and rebellious child from a very religious family. Jason is the narrator of the second section of the novel. His father, Reg, is self-righteous, zealous, and unapologetic, and seems to favour his older brother Kent.
- Reg is the narrator of the fourth part of the novel. Born to a strict father, Reg turned to belief as his salvation. Creating a very strict religious code for himself, Reg married and became the father to two children, Kent and Jason. Kent was his father’s child, following in his father’s religious footsteps. Throughout the novel, Reg undergoes a transformation from narrow fundamentalist to a more open and loving human being.
- Jason's mother
- Jason’s mother married Reg when she thought she had found someone who believed in something. After Reg outcasts Jason, Jason’s mother leaves Reg, and takes Jason across Canada. She eventually succumbs to Alcohol-Induced Dementia.
- Jason’s older brother. He is a leader in the Youth Alive! movement, and looms over his brother as his father’s chosen son. Kent is married to Barb, and has two twin sons with her. He dies in the beginning of the second part from a car accident.
- Kent’s wife, but she is the mother of Jason’s twin sons, therefore Kent’s nephews. She and Kent tried to have kids but it didn't work. Since she was desperate to have kids, and Kent dies, she forces Jason to have kids with her. Since, she wanted her kids to look like they're Kent's and her child, so she has sex with Jason so that there are chances of her child looking like Kent. After a fallout with Reg, she remains close to Jason until his disappearance. She is a different person from Kent in many ways, and is very different after the death of Kent.
- Jason’s romantic partner in the latter half of the novel, Heather is the narrator of the third part of the novel. She is a woman who feels distant and is brought back into the world, just as she brings out Jason from his emotional seclusion. She creates characters and stories with Jason, which are later provided back to her by a psychic, who Heather believes will bring her back to the missing Jason.
Coupland began to write the novel in December 2001, after a "nightmarish 40-city tour that began on 10 September". This tour took him across the United States and allowed him to experience the "collective sorrow" of the United States. Coupland began to research the Columbine events after this experience.
Some people say, how come you never explored the motives of the ones who did the shooting. To my mind, that was all people talked about. I'm very much a fan of JG Ballard, where you have people in this fantastically quotidian situation that goes suddenly wrong, and how people deal with that. Killers get too much press already. I remember growing up, the stories in which they live happily ever after, and the only part that I was interested was, like, after that. Well it was fun for a while then they broke up and she got into crystal meth, found religion and turned into a lesbian. That's the part I wanted to know. That's far more interesting to me.
The quotation from Corinthians that opens the novel was found on a gravestone of one of the children who died in a high school shooting.
History of the novel
An international best-selling novel, the novel was received well by critics.
One lesson I've learned is that you can never guess how a work will be received, … Curiously, The Rocky Mountain News, which is the daily that did the most intense documentation of the incident, and which is the one paper I might have been a bit tetchy about, gave the book an A-minus and told its readers that the memory of Columbine was respected, and in no way diminished or exploited. My personal litmus test was that I didn't want any family member of a Columbine shooting to feel that their loss was being exploited.
Coupland also had an art installation on the same topic, called "Tropical Birds", which featured 3D versions of the kneeling figure from the front cover of Hey Nostradamus!, and other pieces which features scenes from a school shooting tragedy.
Criticism History of the novel
- McCampbell, Mary (2009) "‘God is nowhere; god is now here’: The Co-existence of Hope and Evil in Douglas Coupland's Hey Nostradamus!" in The Yearbook of English Studies, 39(1-2), pp. 137–154.