Wednesday, April 1, 2009

I Receive Offical Consumer Product Survey, and That is as Unexpected as the New Novel "A Reliable Wife."

Recently we received a survey from the Official Consumer Product Survey of America. Inside was a letter that promised riches of up to $2500 if we just took 15 minutes to fill out a four-page survey. I suspiciously read the following:

“Once in a while we carefully select individuals in your community—those whom we feel represent the smartest, most value conscious shoppers. Then we use some of our research budget (I’m suspecting the estimated cost was 50 cents, including presort postage) to find out exactly what these smart shoppers really want.”

Oddly enough, for all their research, the envelope was addressed to “the Main Grocery Shopper” at our address. Perhaps this is used to get us on some direct mail marketing lists. I don’t think these folks read the book that I recently finished, Buyology: Truth and Lies about Why We Buy. Were it the case, they'd ditch direct mailings for MRI machines, and slice up our brains to evaluate stimuli. But that's for another posting, alas.

What I found interesting about the survey is that my survey would have had me constantly checking “other.” My preferred brand of stain remover was not listed (I swear by Tech from Madison; you can get it at Downer Hardware), and we don’t use an air freshener. It turns out my hobbies include neither “cigar smoking” nor “sweepstakes and lotteries.”

This was all fun, but it was the reading question that really got my attention. “What types of books or magazines do your household members read?” Here were the options:
--Best selling fiction
--Bible or devotional
--Cooking or culinary
--Country lifestyle
--Interior decorating
--Medical or health
--Natural health remedies
--People or entertainment
--Science or technology
--World new or politics
--Science Fiction

In this particular case, unlike “Nighttime Sleeplessness Aids”, there wasn’t even an “Other” option.

Where did this list come from? Who is this target person? Astrology but no spirituality? Computer books? Fashion books? In what decade was this survey written? There’s no self-help or psychology? The only history acceptable is military?

For me, however, the strangest thing was that there was no box to check for fiction that was neither best-selling, nor genre. What terrible mistake led “Laura David” at Shopper’s Voice to send me this survey?

I think of this as I contemplate the joys of the new novel by Robert Goolrick, A Reliable Wife. Set in small-town Wisconsin, Ralph Truitt places an ad for such a woman, and the one he’s chosen, Catherine Land, arrives by train, with a plan to slowly poison him. She, it seems, is not all she appears to be, but neither is he—both have ulterior motives.

Aside from being 1907, this could have been one of the houses that received this survey, and this house would also have been totally inappropriate. Goolrick cleverly shifts our expectations as secrets are revealed, twisting our allegiances, and questioning our judgments of good and evil.

The story is intense and wonderful and unexpected. Do I have quibbles? Yes, despite my cowardly nature, the stern prose demanded a story that was a bit more violent, and I questioned why several female characters popped up and disappeared in Catherine’s history: Alice, Hattie, India... If you read A Reliable Wife, you can argue with me over why this is the case; perhaps it was structurally appropriate.

My point here is really this—what box was I supposed to check here? For most people in the world apparently, a book like this isn’t even an option. I guess it could become a bestseller. Maybe if Oprah took a shine to it. She’s been drawn to small-town Wisconsin stories before, most notably The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, Drowning Ruth, and the novels of Jane Hamilton. (Please mark on your calendar that Ms. Hamilton is reading at Boswell on Wednesday, May 6th, as part of our grand opening. She's reading from and talking about her new novel, Laura Rider's Masterpiece. Expect me to gush about that further in future postings.

The odds of this happening would be unlikely, but for one twist--A Reliable Wife is the #1 Indie Next pick for April. So we indie booksellers are working hard to bump this novel into the "bestseller" category.

But say we don't. And what about all the other titles that some of us love but don't fall into easy slottings? For you, the independent readers of the world, this is your secret prize, the category printed in invisible ink.

1 comment:

mcrchicago said...

I am a little behind on my elective reading--thanks for an entertaining and instructive diverson.