The Quality of Life Report

The Quality of Life Report

4.2 14
by Meghan Daum
     
 

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Meghan Daum's unforgettable debut novel brings her sharp wit and courageous social commentary to the story of Lucinda Trout, a New York television reporter in search of greener pastures. Moving to the slower- paced, friendly, and vastly more affordable Midwestern town of Prairie City, Lucinda zealously creates a series of televised reports for her New York audience… See more details below

Overview

Meghan Daum's unforgettable debut novel brings her sharp wit and courageous social commentary to the story of Lucinda Trout, a New York television reporter in search of greener pastures. Moving to the slower- paced, friendly, and vastly more affordable Midwestern town of Prairie City, Lucinda zealously creates a series of televised reports for her New York audience about her newfound quality of life. But when Lucinda falls for eccentric local Mason Clay, her naïveté about the real world leads her down an unexpected path, where she encounters, among other things, a drafty old farmhouse filled with children, an ever-growing menagerie of farm animals, and the harshest winter the region has seen in twenty years. In other words, simplicity just isn't as simple as it is cracked up to be, and "quality of life," Lucinda learns, is much more complicated than she ever imagined.

Author Biography: Meghan Daum, author of the essay collection My Misspent Youth, has written for numerous publications, including The New Yorker, Harper's, Vogue, O, Glamour, and GQ, and has contributed to NPR's Morning Edition and This American Life.

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times
The Quality of Life Report is effervescent and companionable and may well be written off as chick lit, though it deserves better. Daum's enormous comic gift -- and her ability to use it in the service of fundamentally serious issues -- is an unexpected delight. — Karen Karbo
The New Yorker
Daum brings a crisp, wisecracking voice to her novel about Lucinda, a life-style correspondent for a morning television show, who, in search of a more interesting life, leaves New York for Prairie City, a fictional Midwestern town. The "Report" of the title is a series of dispatches on life there which Lucinda pitches to her boss as 'A Year in Provence' meets 'Lake Wobegon Days.' (The boss observes that it's more like "Girl, Interrupted" meets "Deliverance.") Although the New Yorkers here are as predictable as the TV show' reports on bridal-registry etiquette, the people Lucinda meets in Prairie City become real characters, particularly the novel's love interest, a painter whose day job is in a grain elevator. Their relationship gives Lucinda more insight than she might have liked into the lives of some of the women in her adopted town, and leads the novel beyond clichés of city slickers and country bumpkins toward an admirably nuanced view of the American heartland.
The Los Angeles Times
… smart, stylish and sometimes downright hilarious. — Mark Rozzo
Dan Wakefield
Daum has written a first-rate novel—The Boston Globe
The Washington Post
In The Quality of Life Report, Daum does her best work with little things -- minor scenes feel the most relevant, empty rooms the most populated. Like her heroine, the less interesting Daum is required to be, the more freedom she has to invent her own palatably melancholy universe out of rough edges and false starts. — Heather Havrilesky
Publishers Weekly
Daum's winning first novel (after the 2000 essay collection My Misspent Youth) depicts the transformation of Lucinda Trout from a semisuccessful, 29-year-old New York City television morning-show reporter into a full-blown Midwesterner. She flees the big city (and her tiny apartment and domineering, illiterate boss) for wind-swept Prairie City, a smallish town full of affordable real estate somewhere in the flyover zone, promising to send back a series of TV segments dubbed "Quality of Life Reports," intended to demonstrate that wholesome, smalltown life still exists. But once she settles in, she finds all is not necessarily as expected in the heartland: the locals, though well-meaning, don't live up to the clich (nearly everyone has multiple children by multiple partners; a local lesbian singing duo calls itself Estrogen Therapy) and Lucinda manages to produce only a handful of dreadful dispatches. Instead of advancing her career, she surprises her cynical self by shacking up in a remote farmhouse with an irresponsible, faux-Sam Shepard type while helping to care for his three kids, and trying to make it through a long, cold winter with an inadequate car and little money. Though it sounds grim, Daum never lets it get maudlin, and Lucinda's determination to make everything work-the farm, the man, the kids, her career-makes for some brilliant flashes of comedy. By the end, Lucinda may not have found love, or necessarily a better life, but she does learn to relax a bit and take things as they come. Though the love story occupies center stage, this is not mere chick lit, and men will enjoy it, too. It is a confident first novel, full of wit and deft social criticism, often very funny and frequently wise. Daum is a rising star. (May 12) Forecast: The same publishing team that made Melissa Bank into a bestseller could do the same for Daum, who is a frequent NPR commentator and has already appeared on Oprah. A 12-city book tour and tie-in Web site should add to the growing attention. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Lucinda Trout, associate producer of a local lifestyle television show, New York Up Early, visits Prairie City, a small Midwestern town, to film a program on methamphetamine use in America's heartland. She then gets her ditsy boss to agree to let her move there for a year and do a series on "real" life, as opposed to the reputed artificiality of life in Manhattan. In short order, she falls in love with Mason, a back-to-nature outdoorsman/painter, buys a house with him, and joins the board of the Prairie City Coalition for Women and a book club. Meanwhile, Mason becomes addicted to methamphetamine but intends to give it up, so Lucinda decides to stay with him forever in Prairie City. This misguided first novel by the author of the well-regarded My Misspent Youth: Essays lacks anything to recommend it: the one-dimensional characters border on stereotypes, situations are introduced in one chapter and then dropped, and the promising plot fails to deliver. The love story is nonsensical, since we have no clue what draws Mason to Lucinda or vice versa. Daum alternates between what seems to want to be social commentary (but what's her point?) and satire (but there's no humor, unless you consider a horse ejaculating on a group of party goers funny). An optional purchase for collections where her other book is in demand. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 1/03.]-Nancy Pearl, Washington Ctr. for the Book, Seattle Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A half-successful debut novel from essayist Daum (My Misspent Youth, 2001) follows a lifestyle-obsessed Manhattan TV producer as she relocates to a bland midwestern prairie town. When her apartment rent abruptly triples, Lucinda Trout, 29, figures it's time to make a consciousness-raising move to Prairie City ("Open Arms, Open Minds"), a place she visited briefly for a segment on methamphetamine-addicted housewives for her vapid, early-morning TV show, New York Up Early. Lucinda is fed up with her usual journalistic work, aimed at neurotic New Yorkers-segments about thong underwear and adopted Chinese babies on the Upper West Side-and demoralized also both by the inanities of her bitchy boss, Fay Figaro, and by the competition for the hopelessly few available men in the city. So she proposes a "Quality of Life Report" that will cover an entire year in Prairie City, a segment that would allow New Yorkers to indulge in fantasies of the good life with cheap, spacious apartments, abundant "bad boys" to date, and big parties (in barns) costing under $300. But only in theory does the move satisfy Lucinda's yearning to go in a "serious, more humanitarian direction." She taps into the local feminist circuit of recovering, empowering, chain-smoking, aging harridans; finds herself the romantic interest of numerous, albeit unsavory, men; and even moves into a genuine farmhouse with her hickish Sam Shepard fantasy, Mason. Trouble is that taciturn woodsman Mason, who shares custody of his three children by three different lovers, ends up addicted to meth while Lucinda's project about the heartland idyll gradually comes to be seen as a cynical exploitation of the well-meaning natives. And when outragedboss Faye arrives to redirect Lucinda's shoots in order to eliminate any fat, badly dressed people from appearing on camera, the reader winces at the collapse of Daum's skittish irony A chatty, self-absorbed, you-know-what-I-mean style isn't enough to keep Lucinda from being continually outclassed by the forgiving Prairie City locals. Film rights to Radar Films; author tour. Agent: Tina Bennett/Janklow & Nesbit

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780142004432
Publisher:
Viking Penguin
Publication date:
05/25/2004
Pages:
336
Product dimensions:
5.14(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.63(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Read an Excerpt

Open Arms, Open Minds

ou well?"

"My rent is being raised to twenty-one hundred a month," I said.

"Can't you ask your parents for money?"

"Faye, you know my parents are retired schoolteachers."

"Well, then I guess you'll have to move to Queens," she said. "Can you redo this memo for me?"

I took the memo and got up to leave.

"Can you pick up my ashtray?" Faye asked.

"Faye, I'm not your assistant anymore."

Faye was on her fifth temp in fourteen months, a sweet woman who had made the mistake of wearing a plastic tortoise-shell headband to her first day of work.

"I don't want that girl coming in here," Faye whispered, an inch-long ash breaking off her cigarette and landing on her Palm Pilot. "I'm serious. It messes up the feng shui thing in here."

The prospect of the show's moving in a serious, more humanitarian direction slightly abated my dismay over the hopelessness of getting a raise. I went to my desk and did an Internet search on drug rehab facilities in the Midwest. I then left messages with twelve clinic receptionists in places like Missouri, South Dakota, and Kansas, seven of whom were themselves in recovery and wanted to discuss their drug abuse at length. These discussions effectively completed my preliminary research. I rewrote Faye's memo and then typed up my own.

To: Up Early staff From: Lucinda Trout Re: Methamphetamine: It's Cheap, It's a Quick High, and It's Endangering Women's Lives Methamphetamine, also known as crank, speed, ice, amp, blue belly, white cross, white crunch, albino poo, al tweakened long, beegokes, and bikerdope, among other slang terms, is a powerful psychostimulant that causesincreased energy, appetite suppression, insomnia, and, when used over a long period of time, permanent brain damage and possibly death. Once associated with railroad construction and factory workers, meth is now the only drug in the United States that is abused more readily by women than by men. Today it has reached a purity level that makes it up to 80 times more powerful than the crystal meth of the 1960s and 70s. Labs are often set up in abandoned farmhouses, where the putrid odor of the chemicals (which include common household products and agricultural fertilizers) can go undetected. This story will contain in-depth interviews with articulate, wholesome-looking women who found themselves sucked into the vortex of drug abuse and despair. I also envision long shots of cornfields and big sky (evocative of the paintings of Andrew Wyeth) with slow pans (underscored by Aaron Coplandesque music) across rustic farmhouses that belie the illicit debauchery festering inside.

The first person to call me back was Sue Lugenbeel. She was from some place called Prairie City and ran something called the Prairie City Recovery Center for Women. She said she had subjects for me. They would talk and appear on camera. She really wanted to help get the message out.

If only I had been away from my desk when Sue Lugenbeel called. If only the first clinic director to return my call had been some no-personality lout from some shabby town that I'd actually heard of and was therefore less exotic. But no. It was Sue. In Prairie City. I was on a plane with a cameraman the next morning. And from there began the end of my life as I'd known it.

—from The Qualilty of Life Report by Meghan Daum, Copyright © 2003 by Viking Press, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., all rights reserved, reprinted with permission from the publisher.

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