Can an Old Satire, Reborn, Survive the New Political Climate?

The Virginia Quarterly Review has a personal essay by Meghan Daum in which she discusses the recent reissue of her 2003 debut novel, The Quality of Life Report. Daum is nervous about the book’s reception the second time around. Fourteen years after publication, the book is entering a different kind of political climate: A satire about a New York television reporter who moves to the midwest, it pokes fun at overly sensitive liberals, coastal elites, and P.C. culture, and makes jokes about gender, race, and class.

The book can be buffoonish and broad (for better or worse, I was reading a lot of John Irving the time) but I’ve never in my life had so much fun writing anything. I remember sitting in my chair during those years and at times practically falling out of it from laughing out loud. This is not a regular feature of my creative process.

Last year, after not having looked at the book for a very long time, I reread it and found myself laughing all over again. I also found myself utterly shocked by some of the content. Though the reviews back in 2003 had been mostly positive and, moreover, made little if any mention of the risky humor around things like race, class, and gender (or the political undertones of sexually irrepressible farm animals) the humor seemed to me by today’s standards to be something bordering on unacceptable. Were the novel to be published for the first time today (and I suspect it might not be) there’s a good chance it would be the target of such excoriation on social media and elsewhere that its fundamental message—that liberals can be the most illiberal of all, just as urban coastal types can be the most provincial—would be dismissed as irrelevant, if not lost altogether.

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