Meet Raymond Gunt, the “Worst. Person. Ever.” He’s self-centred, obnoxious and obsessed with sex. Worse of all, though, he’s also utterly pathetic, dropping in and out of utterly absurd misadventures that are supposed to be entertaining, but instead form a rather sad sack of a book.
Douglas Coupland’s Worst. Person. Ever. has a premise ripe for satire. Cameraman and self-important failure Raymond Gunt is hired by his ex-wife to film a Survivor-like show in a remote tropical island. Raymond, being a despicable person, decides to hire as his assistant a homeless man named Neal who he thinks is even more disgusting than he is. Unfortunately for Raymond, he being also a totally unlucky person (karma’s a bitch), Neal turns out to be a total stud muffin who appears to live a charmed existence and acts as a gleeful foil to highlight Raymond’s haplessness.
Things go wrong in a variety of ways – Raymond’s cruel jests drive an obese man to a fatal heart attack, Raymond himself nearly dies of anaphylactic poisoning twice (the second of which was deliberately induced to get himself out of jail), Raymond is arrested again (he has a knack for pissing people off) and has to dance the Angry Dance from Billy Elliott to win his freedom, he soils his pants while dropping a nuclear bomb on an island of trash, and so on and so forth. With the exception of the poor obese man, the other incidents are more entertaining in the retelling than in the actual reading. I was at page 152 when I realized I didn’t want to waste any more of my time on this. I skipped to the end to see if there was something worth reading on for, and despite a certain knee-jerk-ha-ha-in-your-face-raymond-gunt revelation, it just felt more of the same. It may well turn out that I missed a stroke of genius in the pages in between, but after 152 pages, I really couldn’t care less.
I don’t generally mind despicable characters. I even enjoy a gleeful sendup of pop culture’s shiny veneer. I love Peter Griffin and Family Guy. South Park makes me laugh, even though I admit a gentler humour is more my taste. But here’s the thing: Worst. Person. Ever. isn’t even entertaining. It felt dated, for one thing, Survivor long past being a cultural icon and the Billy Elliott jokes going stale by the third or fourth reference. I may have smiled at the Flintstones in Vegas reference, but by the time Coupland brought Mr. Bean in for laughs, I was bored. Worst of all, I think, is the self-conscious smugness that accompanied every joke. Aren’t I clever? the story seems to ask. Aren’t I showing Raymond Gunt as just the absolute worst? It’s a story that tries far too hard, and it’s tiresome to slog through. Yes, Raymond will screw this up; yes, Neal will come out a shining beacon; yes, bravo, here are a couple new clever little cultural references that reveal something profound about society; yes, yes, yes, ad infinitum.
If you want to read a book about a despicable character, I highly recommend Martin Amis’ Lionel Asbo instead. Biting, brilliant satire, and a thoroughly entertaining read.
Thank you to Random House of Canada for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.