If Henry David Thoreau is the parent of Wade Rouse’s third memoir, in which a stubborn urbanite attempts to settle down in a small Midwestern town, then Erma Bombeck is its midwife. Rouse, who admits to having covered his walls with the newspaper columnist’s picture in his youth, isn’t a ’60s suburban housewife, but he successfully imports a steady current of panic into the country-mouse comparisons of At Least In The City Someone Would Hear Me Scream: Misadventures In Search Of The Simple Life.
After Rouse and partner Gary purchase a cabin in western Michigan while on vacation, Rouse experienced what he called an “irrational inability” to stop thinking about his impulse buy. But his ultimate decision to experiment with the rural life was based on more than his grandmother’s love of Walden, which she held on the same plane as the Bible: After a scarring childhood in the Ozarks (chronicled in his first memoir, America’s Boy), Rouse felt he had some demons to exorcise, preferably while wearing impractical footwear. Planning to write full-time while looking at the picturesque woods, Rouse ends up executing pratfalls in waders at the supermarket, alienating everyone in his ice-fishing hut, and handing over his lip gloss to a raccoon that’s jumped on his head. The temptation to flee for St. Louis, location of his former life in private-school PR and his house with its postage-stamp-sized lawn, never disappears, so much as it lurks in the dark corners of his cabin, waiting for a moment of weakness.
At first, Rouse tries to set the stakes intentionally low for his country adventure, but he never sheds the desire to make every setback a question of life or death, which sets up an interesting tension: While bouts of writer’s block and the 17th straight day of snow weigh heavily some days, Rouse matches his determination to outlast Thoreau in the wild (after discovering when Thoreau hightailed it back to civilization) with his ability to complain about it. Even admiring a magnificent sunset over Lake Michigan, Rouse still wants his MTV; at the same time, a section attempting to breeze over Rouse’s spiritual enlightenment with the same lightness tips the other way, into self-parody. To the end, he’s skittish about the great outdoors, but at least he never wraps himself in the supercilious smugness that plagues the stunt memoir.