May 18, 2006

Postcards from Exurbia

I just finished reading Rattled, a newly published satirical novel by Debra Galant. It's about the perils of living in a McMansion in the exurbs of Gloucester County, New Jersey. Ms. Galant wrote a column about New Jersey suburban life for the NYT for a few years, so many of the sociological details are excellent. The main character, Heather, is straight out of Desparate Housewives, a cross between Bree and Gabby. I wish she were portrayed a bit more sympathetically, but then I guess it wouldn't be straightforward satire. If you love to hate aquisitive SUV-owning McMansion dwellers and the developers who cater to their "needs" and cut every environmental corner, you'll find it delightful.

Delaware County, where I live, is so densely populated that we don't have room for exurbs, except for way out in the far west reaches, around the amorphouse area called Glen Mills. Somewhere around there, you hit Chester County, which is more known for McMansionitis and its accompanying Porsche and Mercedes dealerships. When we first moved here three years ago, I was innocently driving along Baltimore Pike way out in the country way past Media, into Concordville and it's little country inns and rolling hills and suddenly--wha . . . ?-- Williams-Sonoma, Talbot's, Eddie Bauer, Chico's, Pottery Parn, Pier One, Zagara's (now Foodsource), all in one shopping strip. But why?

Because somewhere out there, nestled in cul-de-sacs well hidden beyond the bustle of Baltimore Pike, crouch insatiable gigantic "homes" (they're never "houses") demanding to be filled with new stuff from these stores. I've never actually seen these places, mind you. I've just extrapolated their existence from the high-end stores and the slim women with fabulous highlighting jobs, designer track suits, deluxe strollers and immaculately dressed toddlers who frequent the stores. Some of Jack and Will's classmates live out there, but their birthday parties are, of course, never held at home.

Rattled is full of brand names, which seems to be a trend lately among a certain kind of satirical fiction. In these days of viral marketing and product placement, that sort of bothers me, even though the mention is only meant as a social indicator. Anyway, let's just say you'll not want to drool over that Restoration Hardware catalog after reading this book.


Anjali said...

Brian and I got a $30 gift certificate from Restoration Hardware as a wedding gift. After circling the store for over an hour, we left. We couldn't find anything to buy cheap enough to be bought solely with the gift card. That was my first and last trip in there.

Texas Poppet said...

Oooo, I do so love to hate "aquisitive SUV-owning McMansion dwellers and the developers who cater to their "needs" and cut every environmental corner"! I also do so love reading yur blog. Keep writing!