Meet the older, wiser Douglas Coupland. His latest novel, Miss Wyoming, loses the flaws that mar his weaker novels too much style, not enough substance; pseudo-profound ramblings; and self-absorbed, unsympathetic characters. Instead, Miss Wyoming contains some of Coupland's best writing witty, irreverent, and full of detailed characterizations and up-to-the-minute pop culture. In books such as Generation X and Microserfs, Coupland's characters have shown us what it means to grow up in America at the end of the 20th century.

Their attempts at escape or reinvention were, more often than not, unsuccessful (Shampoo Planet, Polaroids from the Dead). Now, his characters have returned home, where they try to create more meaningful lives than the ones they ran away from. In her teens, Susan was a beauty queen turned '80s sitcom star. By her mid-twenties, she was an unemployed has-been with a grim future. Then she walks away from a plane crash in the Midwest, the sole survivor (one of Coupland's magical moments: her seat alone sits upright among the smoldering carnage in an Ohio field). Presumed dead, Susan disappears for a year. She emerges after a year to prevent her mother from capitalizing on her supposed death. You will cheer for the reborn Susan as she remakes her life on her own terms. John is no less driven than Susan, and just as alienated. He produces multimillion dollar blockbuster movies with his best friend. After his decadent lifestyle leads to a breakdown, John sells everything he owns and walks away from his life. He believes seeing America from the road will be a poetic and healing journey, but he nearly dies in the desert. His partying lifestyle was empty, his walkabout was a flop. Lacking direction or purpose, he is not as admirable as Susan, but he is endearingly earnest. Susan and John, both smart and strong, have survived Hollywood's cruelty and capriciousness. They ran away and returned changed, determined to make something solid and lasting out of their lives. When they meet, it feels like destiny. And although Susan and John live in Hollywood, the most difficult place in America to do anything with integrity or substance, by the novel's end they have embarked upon something noble and honest.

Surprisingly for Coupland's readers, Miss Wyoming is satisfying in traditional ways: the right couples pair up, and families are repaired. Most importantly, the end of the book feels like the beginning of something good.

Robin Taylor manages Web projects for an IT company in Washington, D.

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