“I’m actually not a bad chap,” insists Raymond Gunt, but he’s wrong. A freelance photographer several months behind on his rent, Ray is the “worst person ever” at the black heart of Coupland’s 14th and most scabrously hilarious work of fiction. “Worst. Person. Ever.” is an erupting Vesuvius of abuse and profanity, and the hapless reader is the city of Pompeii, first burned by Ray’s mockery of society’s most sheltered minorities and then buried by the book’s relentless, gleeful misanthropy.
The novel opens with Ray casually ridiculing a homeless man named Neal who then tackles him and forces him, as penance for his rudeness, to sing “Don’t You Want Me,” by the Human League, like he really means it. Ray’s dignity is further dinged by his acidic ex-wife Fiona, who offers him a suspiciously cushy freelance gig on the South Sea island of Kiribati, acting as a cameraman on the American reality-TV series “Survival.” (All things American come in for a good deal of savagely accurate lampooning throughout the book.)
Ray is skeptical — Fiona isn’t exactly his biggest fan — but he has been won over by the prospect of having a personal assistant for the duration of the assignment. He immediately finds homeless Neal and drafts him for the job. But even this attempt at revenge backfires: Once Neal is shaved and cleaned up, he proves irresistible to every woman within half a mile, including Fiona.
The Kiribati job immediately devolves into a series of disasters, each more inappropriate and guilty-pleasure entertaining than the last. Crammed into coach for the first leg of his flight, Ray finds himself sharing a seat with an enormously fat passenger named Mr. Bradley, whom Ray promptly sets about tormenting into a heart attack for the sheer fun of it: “Mr. Bradley’s face began empurpling, and I felt like a painter working on a successful canvas.”
As Ray’s luck would have it, Mr. Bradley is the irreplaceable mastermind behind “Survival,” which further complicates the whole ordeal.
Unlike in some of Coupland’s earlier novels, no attempt is made at deeper social commentary in “Worst. Person. Ever.” This is a twisted, fun house version of a Jeeves and Wooster novel, but crammed to the rafters with lines you wouldn’t dare repeat to Aunt Agatha.
WORST. PERSON. EVER.
By Douglas Coupland
Blue Rider. 301 pp. $26.95