Douglas Coupland is good at creating bizarre situations that happen to characters that seem very real. In Hey Nostradamus!, Coupland gives you a story that requires readers to think about things beyond the events currently unfolding on the pages in front of them.
The story focuses on a fictional act of gun violence. The massacre in the book is not based on real events (so far as I can tell). The reader knows that the events in the book did not really happen. Despite this, the story is terrifying in many ways because gun violence is something that keeps happening, over and over again, all across America.
The unique thing about this story is that Coupland included the religious beliefs of some of the main characters. He provides readers with details about the deep and private thoughts of his characters.
The book is, on the surface, about a massacre that takes place at a high school. Three teens go into the school cafeteria one day and proceed to blow away several of their classmates. Coupland does not hold back – he gives the reader a graphic and horrible mess to cope with.
This type of situation is one that I’ve had nightmares about after hearing about Columbine. The nightmares returned when I became a substitute teacher. The nightmares made me extremely worried that gun violence would happen at a school that I was substituting at, where I didn’t know the students very well, and had no idea what the official school process was for dealing with a situation like that. My experience as a substitute teacher ended before “lockdown drills” became as normal as fire drills and tornado drills.
The first chapter of Hey Nostradamus! is from the inside of the head of a girl that died in the high school massacre that takes place in the book. The second chapter comes to the reader from the viewpoint of her young husband – about ten years later. The story about how and why these two teenagers got married at such a young age is included in the book. Their story was not what I expected it to be.
The third chapter is from the viewpoint of a woman who meets the young husband years after the high school massacre took place. The last chapter is from the inside of the head of the young husband’s father, who is basically a jerk.
Throughout the book, each character is trying to come to terms with God and the afterlife. The girl and her young husband were involved in Christian youth groups (with teens that behaved in ways that was something other than Christian). The other two main characters were also asking themselves deep, religion based, questions.
Why does God let bad things happen? Is it some sort of test, or is it not even under his control? What sort of God would let something as terrible as a school shooting occur? Is there a God at all? Is there an afterlife, and if so, what is it like? What does God think about people who abuse others while claiming that God approved of the abuse?
The best part of this book is that Douglas Coupland doesn’t provide readers with direct answers to any of the questions that his characters pose. He doesn’t point you toward any specific direction. This is the kind of book that will give you a lot to think about.