Near the end of JPod, Douglas Coupland writes himself into the narrative. Or more precisely: a character named Douglas Coupland enters the story. Writing oneself into a narrative is an endeavour of a completely different, less visible but all the more vulnerable nature; it could be argued that it would actually entail the opposite of painting oneself in the corner of a homodiegetic personae, a character. Coupland's is a frivolous choice, the merits of which are strictly plot-related and have no deeper structural consequences. Narrative voice and focalisation remain comfortingly untampered with. All is fine, not a single reader disturbed.
Still, DC (the writer) makes DC (the character) do something that could have been potentially interesting for him - i.e. DC (the writer). Long story short: character Coupland saves the protagonist's life and asks for his laptop in return. The hand-over is not without Faustian strings: character Coupland - an acclaimed writer - gets copyright and other privileges for whatever he finds on the laptop. The digital remnants of the protagonist's life are his for the taking, down to the last search entry.
As far as narrative strategies go, it's an oldie, but still a goodie, mainly construed to dazzle the gullible Charlton-Heston-faced reader: hang on, so what we've been reading so far is really ... Of course it isn't. It couldn't be.
It could, however, be Chris Eaton, a Biography, the latest novel by Chris Eaton. Eaton's narcissism isn't plot-driven but algorithmically guided. According to the blurb, Eaton did a very zeitgeisty thing and googled himself. The Chris Eatons he found were the raw material out of which he distilled 'Chris Eaton, the principle'.
Calling CEtP a protagonist, would be a fallacy: consisting of different, often conflicting, snippets of biographical text, 'it' lacks the stability needed to be deemed a decent protagonist. Throughout the novel, 'it' shifts in gender, era, profession etc.
Resorting to the plural and seeing CEtP as being embodied by a series of protagonists is no go either. Fluid as it is, CEtP remains a radical singular, centered around Chris Eaton, the author. Not the one Roland Barthes declared dead, but the one he resuscitated years later. The author as a temperament, whose biography is only relevant to the extent of its manifestation(s) in the text, stating its presence by trickling in as a series of seemingly incoherent but stubbornly consistent obsessions.
CE, a B makes any residual inclination towards getting hold of Eaton's laptop irrelevant. Nothing to be found there that isn't already in the novel, which constantly echoes Eaton's search history. Keeping in line with the logic of algorithmically generated search results, no entry can claim superior relevance over the other. Donald Duck equals Schiele and Klimt in importance.
The other thing CE, a B does, and rather cunningly so, is challenge the hermeneutic law of trying to out-smart the author. The reader's proclivity to 'track down' references roughly correlates with the (perceived) smartness of a book. The law is largely based on the premise that referential closure is both possible and desirable, and that understanding boils down to unmasking and finding out. Chris Eaton seems to know this law - as do all authors who, one time or another, have been called too smart for their own good. He makes it next to impossible not to give in to your baser instincts as a reader. So you google. And that's when Eaton gets you. Some of the results might even seem satisfactory in terms of closure and that blissful sense of 'getting' the author's smartness and having your own confirmed. (Google Anthony Gillis, for instance, the obscure modernist painter who had a thing for primary colours, but gradually changed to black, since it conveyed "strength, simplicity, and the quiet energy of balancing forces". Be amazed and revel in your own ability to connect the dots.) At other times, you just hit a brick wall. Your need for overarching closure and pre-given hierarchy is abruptly shoved in perspective. Donald Duck literally is as important as Egon Schiele. Such is the nature of algorithmic identity.
Over the next couple of days and weeks, the interview-in-progress I'm currently doing with Eaton will be published here. We'll be discussing the vices and virtues of visible puppeteering, the myth of the individual author, algorithmic encyclopedism and wide nostrils.