Using the voices of four characters deeply affected by a high-school shooting, though in remarkably different ways, Douglas Coupland explores the lingering aftermath of one horrifying event and questions what it means to come through grief — and to survive.
The first narrator in Hey Nostradamus! is Cheryl, who is waiting in the Delbrook Senior Secondary cafeteria for Jason, to whom she is secretly married. Just that morning, she told him she is pregnant. But before Jason arrives, three younger students wearing combat fatigues storm the cafeteria and open fire on their classmates. Cheryl is the last to be killed. Hiding under a table, she speaks to us from a place between life and death, and tells the story of her relationship with Jason, her conversion to Christianity and her deep love of God, despite her inability to find meaning in this massacre. Unlike her Youth Alive! classmates and peers, who display a harsh and superficial religious fervour, she has truly embraced her faith. "I may have looked like just another stupid teenage girl, but it was all there — God, and sorrow and its acceptance."
The second narrator is Cheryl's widower, Jason, writing an open letter to his brother's twin sons, telling the story of his life to date and how the shooting has shaped it. It's 11 years later, and, still haunted by Cheryl's death, Jason has never been able to pull himself together — he cares little for his work, rarely speaks to anyone, and drinks far too much, too often, in an attempt to kill his pain (or at least not to think about it for a while). Jason also has an uneasy relationship with God, and sees the extreme Christian views of his ultra-conservative father, Reg, as one reason for his inability to succeed at life.
Then Jason meets Heather, who, like him, has a hard time dealing with reality. Together they create a world of their own, and live happily — until one day Jason disappears. It's now 2002 and Heather, who narrates the third section of the novel diary-style, tells us about her life as a court stenographer, her relationship with Jason, and her growing but uncomfortable friendship with Reg. When she's contacted by a psychic who claims she's receiving messages from Jason, Heather is led to the brink of despair and back again to something resembling hope, or at least peace.
Reg narrates the last, and shortest, section of the novel. It's 2003 and Reg is composing a letter to his missing son. It's been 15 years since the high-school massacre, but the effects continue to ripple through the lives of those it touched. Reg has begun to soften and to understand the harm he caused Jason and the rest of their family, and his letter forms a confession of sorts as he tries to be honest about his weaknesses. (From Vintage Canada)
From the book
I believe that what separates humanity from everything else in this world — spaghetti, binder paper, deep-sea creatures, edelweiss and Mount McKinley — is that humanity alone has the capacity at any given moment to commit all possible sins. Even those of us who try to live a good and true life remain as far from grace as the Hillside Strangler or any demon who ever tried to poison the village well. What happened that morning only confirms this.
It was a glorious fall morning. The sun burned a girly pink over the mountain ranges to the west, and the city had yet to generate its daily smog blanket. Before driving to school in my little white Chevette, I went into the living room and used my father's telescope to look down at the harbor, as smooth as mercury, and on its surface I could see the moon dimming over East Vancouver. And then I looked up into the real sky and saw the moon on the cusp of being overpowered by the sun.
From Hey Nostradamus! by Douglas Coupland ©2003. Published by Vintage Canada.