I'm usually not one to begrudge an author the opportunity to hawk his newest book, but David Brooks' shameless hucksterism in his New York Times column today on behalf of On Paradise Drive carries things too far. Brooks doesn't merely plug his book; he suggests that its weak sales help explain why the Democrats lost the presidential election. "I could never get my parts of blue America really curious about exurban culture," Brooks sighs, so is it any wonder that red-teamer Karl Rove walked off with the exurbs instead of blue-teamer John Kerry? The poor fool!
Brooks is attempting a relaunch. He describes On Paradise Drive as a book about the exurbs, which it isn't really. It's really a book about … well, to tell you the truth, many reviewers (including me) had difficulty figuring out what On Paradise Drive was about, which, I think, is the real reason it failed to make as big a splash as his earlier Bobos in Paradise. Mainly, I suspect, On Paradise Drive was about repackaging a few weakly connected magazine pieces (some of which were about exurbia). Now, I gather, On Paradise Drive is about cashing in on the 2004 election.
Brooks doesn't actually write, "If you read one book this year, read On Paradise Drive." Instead, he berates himself for failing to "adequately describe the oxymoronic attraction these places have for millions of people." On the one hand, they're conformist and orderly. On the other hand, they're the wild, wooly frontier. O speak, Muse!
But Brooks' modesty sounds false to me. He tips his hand when he complains that blue America just wasn't ready to part with
a half-century of stereotyping. Movies from "The Graduate" to "American Beauty" have reinforced the idea that the suburbs are bland, materialistic, ticky-tacky boxes in a hillside where people are conformist on the outside and hollow within. The stereotype is absurd, but it closes off fresh thinking.
And whose fresh thinking might that be?