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Douglas Coupland tackles national tragedy in Hey Nostradamus!

Douglas Coupland's new book, Hey Nostradamus!, begins with a teenager named Cheryl narrating the hours and events leading up to, and directly following, her own death during a high-school massacre. Cheryl's perspective is clear as cracked glass, funny and painful at the same time. "I think she's more self-aware than most people her age are," Coupland says. "I don't think people become people till they're 25. They're still people, but it's like when puppies turn into dogs. I think people turn into humans around 20, 25. And before then, they're just easily led in any direction you want to lead them."

Coupland led an entire generation down a distinct, pop-culture-festooned path with his debut novel, 1991's Generation X. It was a book that every twentysomething had heard of, many had read, and some even liked. As clever as it was, there was a certain amount of depth missing from the characters -- providing a reflection of their media-addled times, sure, but also a somewhat less-than-satisfying read.

There is no such problem with Hey Nostradamus!, Coupland's ninth novel. Maybe it's due to him being, at 41, well past becoming human. Maybe it's the scope of the event that he has to work with. "[Columbine] was a very interesting experience that kind of trickled down to everybody's taproot," he says. Having already inspired Michael Moore's Bowling for Columbine and Gus Van Sant's Elephant, the 1999 shootings are altered slightly in Hey Nostradamus!, then filtered through a variety of perspectives, allowing the author to make sense of the senseless with a deft, often painfully exact touch. When speaking of his own experiences in art school and beyond, Coupland gives a glimpse into what enables him to write as a teenage girl, an embittered construction worker, a haunted female lover, and a pious old man, all with equal aplomb. "I pretty much fell through every crack there is to fall through," he admits.

Douglas Coupland appears for a reading and book-signing this Sunday at Barnes & Noble in Jack London Square (98 Broadway, Oakland), at 3 p.m. (Please note that this is a change from the original schedule.) Call 510-272-9237 for more information.

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