Quality of Life Report

14Jul09

I do intend to review Meghan Daum’s novel, The Quality of Life Report, but I do realize that the title is apt for this posting, especially since it’s been a bit since I’ve written anything on my blog.  Marc and I have been keeping super busy, blogging about food and meals, on our combined blog, Saucy & Bossy.  If you haven’t read it yet, please feel free.  We love comments.

It’s been a rough transitory week after furlough — I can’t say I loved not getting paid, but I surely did enjoy having time off.  I had a lot of time to just relax, cook, spend time with Marc and Job, and SLEEP (I slept til NOON on the 4th of July!  That never happens).

While on furlough, I did pick up Meghan Daum‘s novel, The Quality of Life Report, which I got on paperbackswap, and was VERY eager to read.  The Quality of Life Reportis loosely based Daum’s own experience, when she relocated from city life to the country.  The novel’s main character, Lucinda Trout, discovers Prairie City (in an undisclosed Midwestern state — I assumed Iowa, though other people’s reviews have guessed Kansas or Nebraska) on a segment shoot for her local New York morning show.  In meeting some of the more educated and bohemian members of Prairie City’s community, Lucinda decides that she can easily and happily make a life for herself, especially since rent is lower and life is slower.  She even finds a way for her television show to fund the cost of her move, by promising heartland musings for New York audiences.

Almost immediately after moving, Lucinda is barraged with Prairie City-zens who have her best interests in mind.  She is asked out by various men — married and not, and all generally too old for her.  Her connections in Prairie City invite her to every party, every benefit, every club, and generally are ready to have her wow and amuse them with her tales of city life.  This adoration wears thin for Lucinda, who quickly eschews her new friends’ advice and starts to make her own choices.  She moves into a somewhat-sketchy neighborhood (though much safer than some places she’s lived in in New York), purchases a flimsy American car without four-wheel drive, and starts dating Mason Clay, a local artist, equal parts sexy and eccentric. 

The Quality of Life Report by Meghan Daum

The Quality of Life Report by Meghan Daum

Since Prairie City is big enough for everyone to NOT know everyone, Mason is a relative stranger to most of her new connections and it seems that Lucinda likes it that way.  Mason, though handsome and charming, has a lot of baggage that Lucinda has to prepare herself for.  He has three children, from three different women (one ex-wife, one ex-girlfriend, and one one-night-stand), he has no career aspirations and works in a grain elevator, his house is an A-frame cabin in the woods, he is a habitual pot smoker and he bathes in a lake.  Lucinda becomes taken with his charm, and soon convinces herself that Mason’s rough edges are part of “country living”, and since she had very little luck finding and keeping a boyfriend in New York, where men are very high maintenance, she may as well try on a country boy for size and see where it takes her.

Lucinda and Mason’s relationship starts well — they enjoy each other’scompany, they have seemingly great sex (though the book never goes into explicit detail, it’s just an assumption that I’ve made) and Lucinda doesn’t mind acting as almost-step-mother to at least 2 of Mason’s children — the older boys.  Soon, the two decide to purchase a farm, which Mason fills with decrepit, disgusting animals, including a pig and a horny horse.  Unfortunately, after moving onto the farm, Mason also develops a nasty meth habit, which he hides from Lucinda until the night a film crew is set to tape a segment on rural barn dances in her house.

Lucinda, in utter denial about Mason’s behavior, tells him to stop and keeps the news of the addiction to herself.  She assumes he isn’t using, though the signs and symptoms are directly in front of her, and she retreats from any sort of social scene, to avoid confrontation.  The second half of the novel really delves into Lucinda’s denial and avoidance of the topic — which can, at times, definitely feel infuriating.  Daum builds up Lucinda enough that, as a reader, you start to like her, so that when Lucinda starts to make excuses for Mason, assuming that he’s not using, you do start to feel devastation when it’s clear that he is. 

I feel like I have given enough spoilers away in the plot, so I’ll stop here.  I do think that The Quality of Life Report tackles some really interesting subject matter — particularly reflecting that Midwestern cities often have as many quirks as their east-coast counterparts, and that sometimes “the simple life” isn’t quite that simple.  The writing definitely has some quirks — the pacing is often off, with strong details being spared in key scenes.  Lucinda’s voice, though, is funny, smart, quirky, and intelligent — she is very real and likable, even in extremely unlikable situations.  I think if you are looking for a book that is a little lighter than literary fiction, but a little heavier than chick lit, you should look no further.  By no means is this a “must read,” but it does fit the bill for a summer book.

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