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At Least in the City Someone Would Hear Me Scream: Misadventures in Search of the Simple Life

Review

At Least in the City Someone Would Hear Me Scream: Misadventures in Search of the Simple Life

When was the last time you read a memoir that begins with an
angry raccoon perched on the author’s head? That’s the
opening scene of Wade Rouse’s new book and one of many, both
hilarious and wise, that make this a memorable story about living
your dreams and in the process discovering a new life.

Despite the inspiration supplied by his grandmother’s
passion for Henry David Thoreau’s WALDEN, Wade Rouse is an
unlikely heir to the mantle of that nature-loving philosopher.
Although he grew up in the Ozarks, the flamboyantly gay Rouse
confesses that he had transformed himself “from a country
rube into a sophisticated city boy, a Starbucks-swilling,
pashmina-wearing, catch-a-Parker-Posey-independent-movie kind of
guy.” Frustrated in his day job as a public relations
director at a St. Louis prep school, he yearns to become a
full-time writer. So in 2005, he persuades his salesman partner
Gary to abandon urban life for a small house they christen
“Turkey Run” on three and one-half acres of land just
outside the small town of Saugatuck, Michigan, a resort town and
burgeoning artist community about a mile from Lake Michigan. Wade
and Gary soon discover the chasm that separates life in the tourist
season and the reality of a Michigan winter, and the fun
begins.

Before embarking on his adventure, Rouse grabs a pile of
coffeehouse napkins and compiles a list of “new life goals,
one per napkin, that would match the tenets and principles that
Thoreau set forth in WALDEN.” The book’s succeeding
chapters end with a scorecard in which he judges his success by
assigning a point to “Wade’s Walden” or
“Modern Society.” Rouse’s goals range from the
mundane (“learn to love the snow”) to the practical
(“live off the land” and “nurture our country
critters”) to the profound (“rediscover religion”
and “redefine the meaning of life and my relationship with
Gary”). What gives his memoir its real zest are the sparks
that fly when his wish to “eschew the latest entertainment
and fashion for simpler pursuits” meets stiff resistance as
he tries to “let go of my city cynicism.”

For someone who is used to hanging out at Kenneth Cole and
Banana Republic and is  a devoted fan of “I Love
Lucy” (“What would Lucy do?” is a frequent
mantra) and Erma Bombeck, it’s an understatement to describe
Rouse’s immersion into rural life as a culture shock. It
isn’t long before he has had to shed his normal haunts to
frequent the local feed store on Saturday morning (“This is
like replacing meth with Bubble Yum”) or attend a potluck
church supper that inspires a poignant recollection of the painful
week he spent at church camp as a teenager. In one unsparing, often
riotously funny self-portrait after another, Rouse tells of his
grim battle with the relentless Michigan snow, his encounters with
the local wildlife (the aforementioned raccoon gets a curtain call
later in the book), his stab at ice fishing, and his attempt with
Gary to plant a vegetable garden, among other adventures.

Like his predecessor Thoreau, Rouse is a keen, if initially
reluctant, observer of natural life. He is able to write about it
both lyrically (“Sometimes the fog rolls off the lake, heavy
and thick, like a moving curtain, and the morning simply becomes
stalled, the sunlight choked in darkness.”) and with humor
(“Spring arrives one day in Michigan like a forgotten
castaway who manages to row his way onto the beach using two
coconuts.”). He is equally perceptive in the stories he tells
of his neighbors, from the artists on whose farm he and Gary pick
blueberries to the migrant workers who live, and eventually
abandon, the decrepit single-wide trailer next door.

It’s evident early in Wade Rouse’s memoir that
he’s able to play a scene for laughs every bit as skillfully
as David Sedaris, with whose work this book inevitably will be
compared. Rouse’s journey isn’t an easy one, and for
every step forward it seems he suffers a corresponding pratfall
along the way. And yet, for all its biting wit, there’s a
rich, life-affirming message worthy of Thoreau at this
story’s core: “I have now learned that there is never a
wrong time to do something meaningful and courageous in
life,” Rouse writes, “something that makes you deeply
and achingly happy. There is only a right time: a moment to hold
your breath, close your eyes and jump.”

Reviewed by Harvey Freedenberg (mwn52@aol.com) on December 22, 2010

At Least in the City Someone Would Hear Me Scream: Misadventures in Search of the Simple Life
by Wade Rouse

  • Publication Date: June 2, 2009
  • Genres: Memoir, Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Crown
  • ISBN-10: 0307451909
  • ISBN-13: 9780307451903