jPod is a novel by Douglas Coupland published by Random House of Canada in 2006. Set in 2005, it concerns a group of video game programmers whose last names all begin with "J". They live and work in a development "pod", which they refer to as the "jPod", within a company that, as Coupland describes, "resembles, but legally no way is Electronic Arts", located in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada (Electronic Arts has an important branch in Vancouver and its suburb Burnaby). As in Coupland's other novels, the characters can be said to face issues that define their era.
The novel is presented in the form of diary entries maintained on a computer by the narrator, similar to a previous novel from Coupland, Microserfs (1995).
jPod is also a CBC Television TV series; it premiered on January 8, 2008. On March 7, 2008 its cancellation was announced, thus ending the series with a permanent cliffhanger ending.
Ethan Harrison Jarlewski (known as Ethan, or the #2 son of Jim Jarlewski):The book's narrator and main character. He becomes Kaitlin's boyfriend later on in the book. Ethan’s initial line in the text is, “Oh God. I feel like a refugee from a Douglas Coupland novel”. Ethan’s character has to deal with many different situations, and is the most changed character over the course of the novel. He changes his clothing style, for instance, to the clothes left from a group of Chinese immigrants after he lends them all his clothing.Casper Jesperson (known as "Cancer Cowboy" or simply "Cowboy"):A coworker of Ethan. "Cowboy" grew up in an agricultural region and was told that the local cowboys were all dying of lung cancer because they were smoking. Despite this, "Cowboy" smokes. He abuses cough syrup and is a sex addict.Brianna Jyang (known as Bree):A coworker of Ethan. Bree claims that she wants to sleep with almost every man she meets, but only once. Her coworkers are not sure if she actually does this. She later admits that she doesn't and is very confused.John Doe (formerly named "crow well mountain juniper"):A coworker of Ethan. John Doe grew up in an "ultra-lesbian" commune, which explains why his former name was all lower case (he explains, "Capital letters imply hierarchy, that some letters are more important than others."), and grew up without television, popular culture or music. Throughout the book, John tries to be as statistically normal as possible as a backlash to his upbringing. Brandon Mark Jackson (known as Mark, later known as "Evil Mark"):A coworker of Ethan. In the beginning of the book, Mark had only been in JPod for three weeks (hence his boring nickname). The "Evil" part of his nickname derived from the podsters belief that because he and Ethan seemed alike in personality, Mark needed a defining quality. He has been spotted by coworkers to be a neat freak. His main oddity is the fact everything around him must be edible from his futon to his post-it notes. He is nearly left out of the JPod television show. His character is the character killed by Helium, which opens a position for Kaitlin in the television show.Kaitlin Anna Boyd Joyce (known as Kaitlin):A coworker and (later) girlfriend of Ethan. In the beginning of the book, Kaitlin had only joined yesterday. Eventually she develops a relationship with Ethan. Parts of the novel are told through essays and interviews written by Kaitlin, as she attends Kwantlen College and Capilano College. She is very interested in autism and autistic people. She later makes a hugging machine.Kam Fong:A Chinese smuggler of people and drugs. He is a business associate of Ethan’s brother. He is depicted as having no sense of humour. He abducts Steve in the latter half of the book. Kam is universally liked; Ethan's mother and father are particularly fond of him.Carol Jarlewski:Ethan's mother. Carol runs a successful grow-op and draws Ethan into her business problems. Throughout the novel, Carol explores her world in many different ways, from a pseudo relationship to Steve, a relationship to John Doe’s mother at a lesbian commune, and more. She and Jim continue to workon their relationship in the face of these issues however.Jim Jarlewski:Ethan's father. Forced into retirement, he tries to build a second career as an actor, but works as an extra in Vancouver's film industry. An avid ballroom dancer, he becomes good friends with fellow dance-lover Kam Fong. Jim, too, explores his world by having an affair with a classmate of Ethan’s from high school. He and Carol work on their relationship in the face of these issues however.Steve Lefkowitz (known as Steve):The company's head of marketing. Before, he worked at Toblerone, and apparently "turned it around" in two years. He introduces a turtle modeled after Jeff Probst named "Jeff", to send a message to his young, estranged son. He eventually gets abducted by Kam Fong for stalking Ethan's mother, becomes addicted to heroin, and ends up working at a factory in China manufacturing fake Nike shoes. He is later rescued by Ethan.Douglas Coupland (or Anti-Doug):
A character based on the author himself, making several minor appearances as well as being central to one of the subplots. This Douglas Coupland is described as the Anti-Doug by Coupland himself. “The Anti- Doug is an exaggeration of my negative traits. Mostly a lack of patience.”
Theme and plot
The Plot of JPod
is, essentially, a series of smaller plotlines meshed together. These plotlines (in a somewhat chronological order) include:
- Development of a game, first named "BoardX". The game is later radically changed and renamed "SpriteQuest".
- John Doe's pursuit of a statistically normal lifestyle.
- Ethan's relationship with Kaitlin.
- Ethan's mother's marijuana grow-op including its eventual destruction.
- An elaborate hoax by Kaitlin to fool her co-workers into thinking she was involved in a scandal for a diet involving Subway sandwiches.
- Kam Fong's various businesses in human trafficking.
- Steve's abduction, and JPod trying to find him.
- Cowboy's paranoia of signs pointing to his unavoidable death.
- Various characters being sent away to China at different intervals in the plot.
- Ethan's mother moving to a lesbian commune and Jim's attempt to win her back.
The company in JPod, Neotronic Arts, appears to be loosely based on Electronic Arts
(EA), which is one of the world's largest video game publishing companies
and has one of its largest development offices in the Vancouver area. Mention is made of the reliance of the company's game on sports and other media intellectual properties, as well as a sister office in Orlando, Florida
, both of which are characteristic of EA. Furthermore, multiple references are made to characteristic features of the EA Canada (EAC) complex including multi-level layered walkways. It is stated that the offices are in the suburb of Burnaby, near the freeway, which would also be accurate.
The novel’s heavy shift in focus to that of autism in the last section is inspired and influenced by Coupland’s own admitted autism.
The title is undoubtedly also a reference to the iPod
, It may also be a reference to J-Pop
, in which Coupland has showed interest in his other books.
References to Popculture
History of the Novel
Shortlisted for the Giller Prize
, this novel was one of Coupland's most eccentric yet culturally encompassing novels. Set in and around Vancouver, BC, the novel encompasses many aspects of Vancouver life.
The novel was written at the same time as Terry, a book about Terry Fox, a Canadian who ran 143 consecutive marathons. Coupland has said that "All of my more noble character traits went into that book. There was a tar-pit of ooze left over that wanted to go somewhere. JPod was it."
Coupland exhibited large-scale reproductions of some of the book's pages at a Canadian art gallery. As well, several different "hugging machines" have actually been developed with the aim of overcoming sensory integration issues experienced by persons with Autism-spectrum disorders.