A powerful excerpt from Mark Meynell’s book, Cross-Examined. I haven’t picked up a Coupland novel since All Families Are Psychotic, but Girlfriend in a Coma sounds like it might live up to its Mozzarific title, ht DK:
The colossal number of ‘self-help’ books available today testifies to the fact that millions are dissatisfied. They yearn for improvements to their quality of life, for things to be different, better, more interesting, more fulfilling or more fun. ‘How to’ guides, addressing every conceivable problem, claim to offer the easiest routes to instant and successful change. But what about personal moral change? Can a self-help book really deliver that simply by motivating people to ‘pull their socks up’ or persuading them to try out a new technique? So many of us are only too aware that we are not the people we want to be, but have no idea how to change, or even the confidence that such change is ever possible
Douglas Coupland’s characters in Girlfriend in a Coma face up to this specific problem. Richard, the narrator, is playing poker with some friends when their conversation starts getting uncomfortable:
‘I read about this study,’ Wendy said. ‘The researchers learned that no matter how hard you tried, the most you could possibly change your personality – your self -was five percent.’
…Wendy’s fact made me queasy. The news reminded me of how unhappy I was with who I was at that point. I wanted nothing more than to transform 100 percent.
If Wendy is right, where do we go from there? One option is to hide behind any number of different personalities. The passage continues:
A few minutes later, Linus interrupted his poker-faced silence: ‘What I notice,’ he said, ‘is that everybody’s kind of accusing everybody else of acting these days… Nobody believes the identities we’ve made for ourselves. I feel like everybody in the world is fake now – as though people had true cores once, but hucked them away and replaced them with something more attractive but also hollow.
Later, Richard asks Linus where that outburst came from. His reply is heart-breaking:
‘I just don’t know. I had to say it. I’m worried. I’m worried that we’re never going to change. I’m worried that we might not even be able to change. Do you ever worry about that?’
I said, ‘Yes.’
The cross forces us to face up to a disturbing reality: we cannot change ourselves. We are enslaved to our sin. However much we would like to change, we cannot alter our inclination to live for ourselves and not God. If this was all there was to Christianity’s message for the world, it would be bleak indeed; but it is not [. ..] For while we cannot change ourselves, the wonderful new is that God can.