Future Imperfect

Future Imperfect

On Paradise Drive: How We Live Now (And Always Have) in the Future Tense by David Brooks

On Paradise Drive: How We Live Now (And Always Have)
in the Future Tense
by David Brooks
Simon & Schuster, 2004 320 pp $25

“Let’s take a drive,” begins David Brooks’s latest sardonic celebration of American consumerism, On Paradise Drive.

“Let’s start downtown in one of those urban bohemian neighborhoods, and then let’s drive through the inner-ring suburbs and on to the outer suburbs and the exurbs and the small towns and beyond. Let’s take a glimpse at how Americans really live at the start of the twenty-first century in their everyday, ordinary lives.”

What follows is a guided tour of contemporary America, starting from the “Urban Cool Zones,” where, according to Brooks, the latte-sipping, trendsetting elite reside, to the outer reaches of exurbia, which, in Brooks’s cosmology, is home to the new pioneers. Much of this sixty-plus-page survey, which serves as the book’s centerpiece and introduction, will be familiar to readers of Brooks’s writing for the New York Times. What may come as a surprise to those who are only acquainted with his journalism and op-ed pieces is that Brooks is at times a competent and interesting observer of the American landscape.

When On Paradise Drive strains for grander insights-and bigger laughs-the book falls flat. Its comic low arrives with the story of “Patio Man” and “Realtor Mom,” a hard-working and hard-shopping exurbanite couple. Mr. Patio enters a super-size hardware store in pursuit of “a first-class barbecue grill,” “his eyes glistening with a far-away visionary zeal.”

When he reaches the barbecue display area, a large salesperson… comes up to him . . . Patio Man, who has so much lust in his heart, it is all he can do to keep from climbing up on one of these machines and whooping rodeo-style with joy, still manages to respond appropriately. He grunts inarticulately and nods towards the machines . . . the two manly suburban men have a brief exchange of pseudo-scientific grill argot that neither of them understands, and pretty soon Patio Man comes to the reasoned conclusion that it would make sense to pay a little extra for a grill with V-shaped metal baffles, ceramic rods, and a side-mounted smoker box.
Here and there are a few innately Office Depot guys who are trying to blend in with their more manly Home Depot brethren, and not ask Home Depot inappropriate questions, such as “does this toolbelt make me look fat?”

We’ve all witnessed scenes like this, but not, as Brooks would have it, in real “everyday, ordinary” super...