I live in a big town – a city where I’m always meeting people who know each other, a place known for its “Iowa nice”, a metro area of 500,000+. I grew up in a smaller town – a university community with people from all over the world, a town with only one high school and less than 50,000 people. My parents were both born into Midwestern farm families, but grew up to travel to China, Australia, India and Austria in their work.
I’ve lived and traveled all over the U.S., Europe, and Africa. I will read stories about almost anywhere in the world – Asia, Peru, Canada, Oklahoma, wherever. I spent a semester in college reading travel literature, which fed my desire to see the world while also meeting the English credit I needed. I’ll happily travel to England to solve mysteries with Flavia de Luce or go to East Turkestan with Mehrigul in The Vine Basket. So I’m not unaware of what life outside my neighborhood is like.
But my latest read reminded me that I do have my biases, and I can’t relate to every character put in front of me. I don’t have a lot of patience for entitled kids and parents who live on the Upper West Side of New York City, for example. They may have some of the same issues that other kids have, but having spent a large part of my working life with families living in poverty, I’m just not all that sympathetic to not being able to annoy my parents into buying me $400 shoes.
Maybe this kind of story appeals to people who dream of living that life. Maybe it’s a look into a world that I don’t understand. I’m sure it’s hard to have to worry about getting my kid into an expensive private school or make sure my nanny doesn’t spend more time texting than paying attention to my kid. But I find myself thinking that the obsession with money and status isn’t all that interesting, and the characters – even when they’re funny – seem kind of shallow. I wish I could find something redeeming in them, but I can’t. Most likely, these characters are not written to speak to me, anyway. And that’s ok. I lived in New York City for almost a year, and I’m happier in Iowa. I can travel anywhere from here if I want to, after all, and I can pick the characters who come with me.