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Wednesday, June 17,2009

Not into the wild

Memoirist toughs it out in Michigan with mixed results

by Drew Winter

Author Wade Rouse compares himself to Henry David Thoreau and Carrie Bradshaw. The latter is appropriate. “At Least in the City Someone Will Hear Me Scream” is a memoir of a flamboyant, cityloving homosexual man who, attempting to mimic Thoreau, moves to a rural area in western Michigan to live his dream of being a writer. He achieves this through a handful of trite realizations and encounters with local stereotypes that make Candace Bushnell look like Gore Vidal.

It’s Rouse’s third book, coming on the heels of his two other memoirs, “America’s Boy” (2006) and “Confessions of a Prep School Mommy Handler” (2007). He also contributed to “The Customer is Always Wrong: The Retail Chronicles” (2008), a collection of humorous essays about the horrors of customer service jobs.


The book, to its credit, does little to disguise the fact that it’s not much more than a “Sex and the City” episode starring a gay, male Sarah Jessica Parker. Reader responsibility is kept to a minimum, since each chapter is conveniently labeled as a specific lesson to be learned. And since those lessons are as original as “Love the Snow,” and “Rediscover Religion,” the book appears to embrace its superficiality. Unfortunately, Rouse doesn’t. He is on a journey, damn it, and he’s willing to pull the reader through heaps of clichés to showcase it.


This presents a problem for a reader looking for more than 301 pages of anec dotes reminiscent of Cosmopolitan magazine. Rouse explains the motives behind absolutely every situation. Not only that, he elucidates every predictable, petty disagreement via comparisons so extraneous they rival TV’s “Family Guy.” For example:


“‘Because you need a dose of this,’ he had said, dramatically gesturing out the car window like a ‘Price is Right’ girl.


‘You need a dose of this,’ I said, grabbing my crotch like Kanye West.”


All of this would be more forgivable if the story showed that six or eight months in nature really can turn a selfish 40-yearold into a compassionate soul, but that’s not the case. Rouse’s character is stubborn, shallow and angry. It’s cute at first, being introduced as a city slicker who is dancing and screaming as a raccoon grips his head. But, despite the so-called lessons, from beginning to end he can’t go for long before exploding in a childish fit with people who won’t do things his way. It’s hard to feel sympathy for someone who is willing to lecture a woman for selling tomatoes only in packages of four, or who refuses to take his shoes off in a religious building where it is customary. While sitting in a shack ice fishing with locals, he complains incessantly, writing, “I am not having a good time and — in my world — that means no one else can have a good time either.”

This isn’t “endearing fussy boy,” it’s just being a jerk.


Reading about such a character interacting with God fearing, flannel-wearing, duck-owning neighbors is quite funny, in a Larry David sort of way; Rouse is not without a sense of humor, just a sense of literature. Aside from “Walden,” Rouse writes that his preferred reading material is People and designer catalogs.

Speaking at a reading and signing at Schuler Books & Music in the Eastwood Towne Center last Thursday, Rouse said his main goals with “At Least in the City” are for people to “laugh their butts off,” but also “to think deeply.” He read four essays from the book, prompting attendees (including myself) to chuckle and nod in acknowledgement of the trials of Michigan living (the abysmal snow storms, summer construction).

Rouse’s story (at least the idea of it, and the proof that it’s possible) is actually inspirational. I found myself thinking, “I should move to the woods and write a book, so long as I don’t write four-page chapters and I keep pop-culture admiration to less than 30 percent of the total word count.”

If this character and some melodrama will suffice to occupy your time, perhaps as beach reading for a few laughs without much brain strain, pick it up. In fact, take my copy.

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