14 June 2011

Quality of Book Report

On Saturday, I decided to read what was left of the book I'd cut for my last OA project, Meghan Daum's "The Quality of Life Report".

There was enough left for me to understand the story and not feel like I'd missed anything, but to be honest, I'm not too sad now that I cut the book. It was all right, and funny in parts, making what I guess America calls a decent "beach read." I still didn't like the protagonist very much, nor the end at which the book arrived.

Lucinda Trout is a TV producer from New York who, after an assignment in Prairie City, decides to relocate there in the hopes of discovering that easier, slower-paced farm life, apparently the fantasy of many harried city dwellers.

I might be the wrong person to write a review of this book, maybe because I did the opposite by leaving my own quiet province for Metro Manila, maybe because my priorities are vastly different from Lucinda's, or maybe because she's American. If Ms. Daum's objective was to write "Moving to a Small Town, You're Doing it Wrong," I guess she succeeded, but she didn't make Lucinda someone I could root for in the process.


- Lucinda leaving New York for Prairie City and thinking of the latter as a sleepy hick town is way off, based on the kind of lifestyle she's able to sustain. In the beginning, she made Prairie City out to be something like the isolated farm town of Holt, Colorado in Kent Haruf's "Plainsong", or worse, someplace with few phone or power lines and maybe no running water. But it's more like she moved from Metro Manila to General Santos, where the malls, businesses both local and franchised, and landscaped central park are enough to tell you you're far from the middle of nowhere.

- Lucinda's first friends are the community leaders, possibly elites, who change cars every year and own a big house with a pool in the backyard. Most of her encounters with people from lower income brackets are when she interviews/exploits people for her show and when she's in line at the local supermarket.

- She's kind of stupid with her money. Knowing that her pay-per-used-segment income will likely be inconsistent, one of the first things she does is get a co-branded credit card for a furniture store. "Oh, I might not be earning enough money. Rather than budget wisely and try to save, I'm going to get myself into debt to support my need for interior design! Yay, eggplant door panels!" Kaya nagka-financial crisis sa States, e.

- She then springs, not for a modest studio or a little cabin, but for a huge apartment in a suburban area and all this Martha Stewart-type junk to decorate it.

- She does this a second time, for a more expensive place, with her new boyfriend whose own money goes to child support for his three kids.

- The new place is isolated and sort of a farm, but she doesn't know how to take care of it. She's helpless without the boyfriend around to play the brawny farmhand.

- She buys a car. Sure, it's secondhand, but doesn't this place have a bus system?

- When she gets depressed, she blows more money on tanning and fake nails. I thought the point of moving to the country was to find inner peace by living off the land. She could at least have planted a vegetable garden.

In the end (SPOILER ALERT?), Lucinda realizes that instead of truly improving her quality of life, she's deluded herself into thinking that she can get her rural fantasy without actually working for it. It's a great moral, sure, but I just feel like there could have been less shallow, less obvious ways for her to learn it.

There's also a disturbing, second conclusion (ANOTHER SPOILER ALERT?) to Lucinda's tale, which I think she touches on but kind of chickens out of exploring: it's people who experience inertia, not cities. The inertia she experienced as a New Yorker too complacent to leave her highly urbanized cocoon is not unlike the inertia that sucks the people of Prairie City into the ground. In a similar vein, the concerns and conversations had by her giggly girlfriends and bitchy employer in New York are just as absurd as those of the Prairie City socialites who surround her.

Maybe this is the main reason I don't like Lucinda's story. She thinks she's changed into a better person, but really, it's not by much. Fast life, slow life--it doesn't matter if you don't actually go anywhere.

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