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The Quality of Life Report Hardcover – May 12, 2003

3.5 out of 5 stars 107 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Meghan Daum's first book, the essay collection My Misspent Youth, was written with effortless humor and excoriating insight. This was a writer who made fun of everything, most especially herself. Humor and self-knowledge infuse her debut novel, The Quality of Life Report. Fans of Daum's essays probably know that her unworkable, expensive New York lifestyle led her to move to the Midwest. Same goes for the fictional Lucinda Trout, a New York TV producer who, while on assignment, falls in love with the town of Prairie City. Daum, with typical acuity, is wise to her character's real motivations for moving to the country: she wants to be a better person, and believes the Midwest will do the trick: "This was, after all, serious country. The real heartland, the plains. It was Willa Cather-novel serious. It was Sissy Spacek-movie serious and documentary-film-about-poor-conditions-in-meat-packing-plants-serious." Lucinda soon discovers that she's not immune to the less-than-perfect aspects of Prairie City living, and acquires a boyfriend of questionable hygiene and judgement; a rambling, isolated farmhouse that looks like the set to a Sam Shepard movie but is impossible to heat; and a tanning-bed tan and a set of false nails that are the region's signature style. The plot of the novel unwinds rather messily, and Daum doesn't always seem in control of her material. But she never lets Lucinda off the hook, and that's the key to the book's success. Daum has given her heroine a voice that is prickly, a little ruthless, and lovably vulnerable all at once. We don't always respect Lucinda, but we're pretty sure we'd be friends with her. --Claire Dederer

From 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.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult; 1st edition (May 12, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670032131
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670032136
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.2 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (107 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,683,865 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By C. Ebeling on May 26, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Like other readers, I pounced on this the minute it was published because I admire Daum's first book, the essay collection titled MY MISSPENT YOUTH. Like other readers I find THE QUALITY OF LIFE REPORT somewhat problematic. My biggest problem is its strength: I found its unapologetic lessons on living with the choices we make in life dispiriting. The critics who recommend it commend its comic dimensions, which are there, but the projectory of the protagonist's experience in dumping the unaffordable life of Manhattan for the affordable life of a prairie town in the Mid-West is sodden with dramatic irony, not big laughs. HOUSE OF MIRTH and SISTER CARRIE came to mind, not VANITY FAIR or anything Austen. While the book does not end tragically, it lacks the life affirmation that should come in the end of a novel labeled "comic." Another problem is, the comedy is supposed to turn on the contrast between the Manhattanite-Ralph Lauren vision of the country life and what country life and folk really are, but there isn't enough on the Manhattan side, other than yearning references to space, affordability, Willa Cather, Sam Shepard, and Jessica Lange movies to balance the messy and ultimately undefined reality of the country.
This is well crafted and, in true Daum fashion, well-observed. There are comic elements. If the book suffers from any one thing, it is that it plays too much by the workshopped rules of contemporary American literary fiction which tend to keep writers sitting on their hands. There should be more anger, more outright hilarity, the rhythm should be punchier.
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Format: Hardcover
I am familiar with Meghan Daum having been part of the "Self" generation, and I have always liked her honest, witty articles in that magazine. I was tempted to read her book for that reason, and to be honest, I liked the idea of taking yourself out of the rat race, to try to find something more meaningful. The concept worked, but the book was a little shaky for me.
Lucinda Trout was a 20 something "Lifestyle Correspondent" who went to Prairie City orginally to interview meth addicts who were also housewives. Apparently, they would do it, lose weight, and even have a very clean house. Lucinda fell in love with the simplicity of the place, the natural beauty, and said goodbye to New York, at least for a year, so she could broadcast her "Quality of Life Report," to New Yorkers, to show them that it is possible.
While she is there, she meets Mason, a 40 year old "Jeremiah Johnson/Brad Pitt" type, and finds herself intrigued by him, so she accepts his proposal to go out sometime. This man has three kids by three different women, and lives in a little cabin in the woods.
So, she starts to date him and ignores other men that have been interested in her. She starts to get acquainted with his kids, and before you know it, they move in together! Unfortunately, this is where I started to lose interest because the book starts to drag in unimportant scenes and details.
Such as: Lucinda starts to get involved with this women's group talking about "empowerment" and reading inspiring books. Mason starts to develop a "problem," but Lucinda stays with him and doesn't seem to be quite affected by it.
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Format: Audio Cassette
The Quality of Life Report is a witty and sometimes hilarious look at the culture shock experienced by a New Yorker who moves to the Midwest. Lucinda Trout is an assistant producer for a New York magazine-style television program. Her moody and caustic boss Fay comes across as a caricature at times, but is nonetheless a very funny parody of an urban elitist hipster (this, despite the fact that she can't spell). Lucinda is dissatisfied with her life for several reasons. She is a single woman in a city with a dearth of available men. She can only afford a tiny apartment in Manhattan. Finally, she is tired of the shallowness of her career and lifestyle. These facts conspire to hatch a new plan in Lucinda's mind --move to a town thousands of miles away and report back to New Yorkers in a "Quality of Life" report. So she relocates to Prairie City (a fictional place in an unspecified Midwestern state) and begins with a series on meth addiction. From there, she meets an odd assortment of characters, including Mason, who becomes a romantic interest, and sort of settles down while coping with a series of increasingly catastrophic misadventures.

I really enjoyed Meghan Daum's writing style and subject matter. I must also give credit to Johana Parker, the narrator of the audiobook, who does a superb job in capturing the personalities of the various characters. I laughed more listening to this book than I have in a long time. I liked the way she satirizes both big city pretensions and small town provincialism. She also makes some keen observations about the impact a different landscape has on peoples' lives. The vast open spaces of Prairie City present a dramatic contrast to the claustrophobic atmosphere of Manhattan.
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