Thursday, December 17, 2015

Book Review: The Quality of Life Report

(Reluctantly reclaimed from Blogjob.)

A Fair Trade Book
Author: Meghan Daum
Author's web page:
Date: 2003
Publisher: Penguin
ISBN: 0-14-20-0443X
Length: 309 pages
Quote: “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.”
A strangely interesting thing about Lucinda Trout, the narrator in The Quality of Life Report, is the contrast between how badly she writes while she’s trying to be an urban hipster professional writer, and how well she might even say like Meghan Daum...after she accepts herself and settles down in Prairie City.
Since this is an Internet book review, written for Internet audiences, it’s necessary to underscore the obvious. Trout is not Daum. In many first-person novels, any misjudgments the narrator makes are the author’s own. The Quality of Life Report is not one of that genre. After reading several scenes, you're meant to exclaim “How can anyone be so stupid?!”
Lucinda’s egregious misjudgments include shacking up with a guy who takes drugs, and assuming that she’ll like Prairie City merely because a lesbian lives there, but the dumb mistake to which I feel a need to call attention is the way Lucinda reacts to the cat colony that comes with her farm. Because there’s no further elucidation in the text I suspect that this may actually be something that happened, and wasn’t fully explained, to Meghan Daum.
What Lucinda sees crawling blindly and horribly around in the grass, on the farm, are month-old kittens with an infectious disease. The mother cats know that all they can do for these kittens is leave them alone; if the kittens have a chance to survive, it'll be by starving out the infection. Older kittens and adult cats can be treated with antibiotics, but the antibiotics are likely to kill month-old kittens. So most, if not all, of these kittens are just going to go on screaming with pain until they die of dehydration, unless they’re humanely destroyed. That’s why some of Lucinda’s friends send her into town and slaughter the kittens. It’s understandable that this routine bit of farm life would seem horrible to a city girl like Lucinda.
What’s unconscionable is that Lucinda shows no appreciation for the blessing of her remaining disease-resistant cats. Lucinda thinks they’re feral. Really feral cats won’t let a stranger get within arm’s length of them, on first meeting, and let themselves be packed into the trunk of a car. The cats who come with her new home have been pets, and would have become valuable friends and partners for Lucinda if she’d only had a brain. Again relying on male friends’ help, Lucinda stuffs these cats into the trunk and dumps them out on the streets of Prairie City. Fortunately local residents have enough sense to accept the cats rather than criminalize this display of ignorance.
Later in the story there are references to a mouse problem in the house. That’s not enough. Any fictional character who fails to appreciate farm cats really needs to lose something valuable to the invading rats, then be bitten by a rat and suffer through gruesome reactions to rabies shots, at the very least. Partly because Europeans learned to appreciate cats in the seventeenth century, the disease we now call septicemia is no longer a plague; thanks to twentieth-century antibiotics, people are likely to survive a bout with the disease formerly known as “Black Death.” It would be edifying, though, if more fictional cat haters suffered from this rat-borne disease. 
Anyway, Lucinda is a comic airhead character, and makes other stupid mistakes readers will see coming. She deludes herself that her city job hasn’t become a complete dead end. She bullies her friends in Prairie City into appearing in pseudo-reality videos. She thinks she can see a gain of six pounds. She goes to a tanning salon. She fails to intervene when her friend with the bad habits uses drugs while he has custody of his children, or when she sees undeniable evidence that the children’s mother is abusing them more directly...thus setting up the opportunity for Psycho-Mom to set Lucinda up for jail time...but you have to read the book.
Daphne Merkin, who is more prone to exaggeration even than I am, gushed, “Here’s a novel for the ages.” Er, um...a novel for our age, absolutely, yes. A novel that is recommended to anyone who could use either a good think or a good laugh, yes. A novel that bears comparison with Cold Comfort Farm, even. But let’s wait a hundred years or so to find out whether any new book is really “for the ages.” Ruth Ozeki, with her habit of being right, commented: “Daum skewers the obsessive narcissism and sense of entitlement that passes for real values in our media...The Quality of Life Report intelligent and heartfelt tale.”
I bought this book when it was new, because Meghan Daum was a helpful e-friend. By now it's A Fair Trade Book: send $5 per copy + $5 per package to either address in the sidebar of your screen (above the ad), via Paypal or U.S. postal order (or the special BlogJobStore system when I get the page set up), and Daum or a charity of her choice will receive $1 per copy. As always, you can mix books in a package, so if you order The Quality of Life Report and My Misspent Youth together, Daum or her charity will receive $2 (even though you'd pay only $15). For her newer books, I recommend ordering new copies through Daum's own web page to show respect.
(Wordpress tags: abandoned pet catscat haters deserve septicemia,comically ignorant heroinesfeline enteritis,feral catsMeghan Daum,novel comparable to Cold Comfort Farm.)