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The Quality of Life Report by Meghan Daum


Rating: (Read only if your interest is strong)


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If your idea of entertainment is to read a novel about a gen-X professional who leaves New York and its self-conscious self-centeredness for Prairie City (PC), a politically correct Midwestern town in search of an improved quality of life, by all means read Meghan Daum’s debut novel, The Quality of Life Report. Expect to read several enjoyable pages of Daum’s pointed barbs at those who live in NY and in PC. She captures characters in both locations at their worst. Daum presents an underlying theme of addiction and recovery, by the protagonist, Lucinda’s, boyfriend, and in various forms by Lucinda and other characters. Here’s an excerpt (pp. 64-5):

I didn't tell Daphne or Elena or anyone else that I'd given my phone number to a guy I met in the woods, a guy with three kids who worked in an elevator, made jokes about killing someone, and, come to think of it, hadn't said he wasn't married, which, in light of the Joel encounter, didn't appear in Prairie City to be a deterrent in asking women on dates. I didn't tell anyone that when Mason called a few days later—"Uh, hi I think we met in the park," he said when I answered, invoking neither his name nor mine—1 agreed to meet him, albeit in a public place. He suggested we go to Effie's Tavern.

As I explained earlier, Effie's was legendary not just in Prairie City but also throughout the region for being an equalizing force among all socioeconomic and ethnic groups. Though some chalked this up to Effie's affable, low-key atmosphere (there was a pool table but no keno gambling) I soon learned what all the regulars knew—that the equalizing force had less to do with things like open arms and open minds than with the fact that Friday afternoon happy hour drafts at Effie's were $1.00 and at Applebee's, just a quarter mile down the road, they were $1.50.


It was a Tuesday evening when I met Mason at Effie's. There was hardly anyone in the place, just a handful of overweight white women with muscled black boyfriends, every single one of them with a shaved head. Mason was sitting at the bar wearing the same outfit he'd worn in the park, except his tank top was actually on his body. I had on my J. Crew pants, a linen Brooks Brothers shirt, and a strand of freshwater pearls.

"I didn't think you'd show up," Mason said.

"I always keep my appointments."

He surveyed my outfit. "I don't think they have wine spritzer here," he said.

"I'll just have a beer,'" I said. "I'll have a, uh, a Heineken.'

"I don't think they have Heineken."

"What are you drinking?" I asked.

"Leinenkugel," he said.

"What's that?"

"It's kind of like urine," he said. "With a note of Heineken."

A gigantic woman with bleached blond, penned hair was leaning over the pool table, her two-sizes-too-small shorts riding up over the tops of her thighs. I noticed a small child clinging to her legs. Stevie Ray Vaughan was blasting through the speakers. Mason got up to get me a beer and came back with a Rolling Rock.

"Best in the house," he said.

"So," I said, "what building do you work in?"

"What building?" he said, perplexed.

"Where is your elevator?"

"On Highway 36."

"Is it an office building?"

"No," he said. "It's just an elevator. A grain elevator."

A grain elevator! He wasn't an elevator operator as in a guy with epaulets and a hat. He worked with grain. He worked in an agricultural capacity, which put him in the neighborhood of farmer.

"Did you think I worked in a regular elevator?" he asked.

"Oh, no," I said. "Well, maybe."

"And you still agreed to meet me?"

"I'm not sure what a grain elevator is," I said.

"It stores the grain," he said. "Farmers bring their crop in after they've harvested it, we put it in bins, sometimes dry it off if it's wet, and then load it onto trains."

"Why is it called an elevator?"

"Because an elevator lifts the grain up to the top of the bins," he said. "Ours is about seven stories high."

"So how do you spend most of your days there?" I asked.

"Most of the guys watch soap operas," he said. "I leave as much as possible. It's pretty slow except during harvest. The boss practices tai chi all day."

If you liked that excerpt, there’s plenty more where that came from on the pages of The Quality of Life Report. I kept waiting for the book to get better, but it never did. If you’re not from New York or one of the many PCs, or have suffered the cycles of addiction and recovery, you might enjoy The Quality of Life Report. For most readers, there’s not enough reason to bother turning these pages.

Steve Hopkins, August 22, 2003


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The recommendation rating for this book appeared in the September 2003 issue of Executive Times

URL for this review: Quality of Life Report.htm


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