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