Picks and Pans Review: The Quality of Life Report

UPDATED 05/19/2003 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 05/19/2003 at 01:00 AM EDT

By Meghan Daum

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Media-friendly Daum has popped up everywhere from NPR to Oprah to talk about her transformation from spendthrift New York City journalist to well-adjusted writer living in Nebraska. She has also spun the experience into this funny, literate first novel. Lucinda Trout, an N.Y.C. TV reporter, dreams of more: a Sam Shepard-like man and a sense of self-worth that goes beyond reporting on "how roomy a thong can really be." When she lands in fictional Prairie City for a story, she finds "the tug of that land was as strong and invisible as gravity" and negotiates a year of bliss there by promising to file Quality of Life Reports about barn dances and bathing in rivers. Expecting to be a big fish in a small pond, Lucinda finds that she's just a fish out of water.

Daum has an eye for the telling detail and interesting things to say about how priorities get rearranged—when people value their pets over each other, for instance. Though the humor can be gross (both child laxatives and horse semen feature), this is a surprising, entertaining and often touching story of a single woman lurching into her thirties looking for love and fulfillment, but mostly just finding herself. (Viking, $24.95)

BOTTOM LINE: Top Quality

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