Drozdov offers a takedown of reality television in this debut novel about an assistant on a popular home-makeover program.
Jane Forte, a not-quite-middle-aged, divorced mother of a preteen daughter, has won first place on Decorating Challenge, a reality show airing on a major cable network that caters to the do-it-yourself lifestyle. Network superstar Sandy Lewis was one of the judges of the competition, and in a moment of exuberance, she promises to hire Jane as her design assistant on Design My Life, Sandy’s long-running decorating series. Jane, a little overweight and seriously insecure, timidly positions herself in the background, behind the cameras, as Sandy, the host, pretends to execute a variety of DIY projects that are actually put together by professional (albeit unpaid) construction crews. On-camera talent is chosen for looks, not creativity: “You have probably heard about television being only for Q-Tips—that is sticks with big heads,” Jane says. “It is true.” Ultimately, Jane, who handles everything from selecting homeowners to rounding up live turkeys to run through the set for a Thanksgiving shoot, will come out on top, although, naturally, it doesn’t turn out quite as she imagined. Drozdov has worked in the production of such lifestyle-television shows as the Canadian home-improvement series Holmes on Homes, so she’s well-versed in the mechanics and lingo of the industry. Her story offers an insider’s behind-the-scenes reveal of the nonstop chaos, acrimony, and chicanery that occurs during the production of a season’s worth of reality show episodes. “Spontaneous” conversations with homeowners are shown to be scripted, episode finales are filled with borrowed furniture, construction mistakes are covered over, and everything gets fixed in the editing room. The sharp, sometimes-scathing narrative flows energetically. Sometimes, though, the switches between multiple venues will blur readers’ sense of time. The text would also have benefited from a stronger copy edit to remove simple errors (“We need you do shoot a quick stand up”) and the occasionally inconsistent use of past or present tenses.
Wit, a bit of romance, and a satisfying conclusion make for an often enjoyable read.