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 outraged boss 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.