SHE'S GONE COUNTRY

by Kyle Spencer (Vintage, $13)

WHEN WRITER Kyle Spencer hit her late 20s, she decided it was time to have herself an

"/>

Ain't it quaint

A New York girl braves the boonies.

SHE'S GONE COUNTRY

by Kyle Spencer (Vintage, $13)

WHEN WRITER Kyle Spencer hit her late 20s, she decided it was time to have herself an adventure. So she moved from New York City all the way to Raleigh, N.C.—"the heart," as everyone knows, "of Dixie." There she learned all kinds of surprising stuff. Like, if you speed in North Carolina, you're liable to get a ticket. Landlords aren't always looking out for your best interests. And some people wear cowboy hats even though they're not cowboys. Uh-oh, Toto, looks like we're not in SoHo anymore.

Spencer, a neurotic, adorable pixie who wears Betsey Johnson and "nibbles" (never eats) her food, has decided to up and move to the South after nearly 30 years spent drifting from one big city to another, contrary to the advice of friends, colleagues, and her stepmother, who buys caviar at Dean & DeLuca and wears Charles Jourdan sunglasses. This is one of those not-very-well-thought-out life decisions made largely, Spencer explains, because she wants to be surrounded by "normal people," not her highly dysfunctional family. So Spencer, a journalist who likes to think of herself as Lois Lane (spunky! Enjoys a challenge! Never takes no for an answer!) wrangles herself a job at the Raleigh News & Observer, a paper, Spencer notes, that quaintly enough "just won a prize for a series on pig manure scandals."

She's Gone Country is a memoir, but it's also therapy for Spencer, who could apparently use a little counseling. As journalism, it's about as caffeinated as RC Cola and about as nutritious as a Moon Pie. As therapy—well, you'll have to wait for the sequel to see how it all shakes out. The story shifts between Spencer's family in New York—none of whom, with the notable exception of her stepmother, Shelby, seems overburdened with kindness or common sense—and her new life in North Carolina, where she interviews mass murderers, sips tequila shots with a pack of Rules girls, and tries, mostly unsuccessfully, to snag a man. This last may surprise you, until you realize that Spencer assumes every man she meets is going to be her husband and is crushed when they fail to propose upon introduction.

Spencer's family, meanwhile, is falling apart; her father and stepmother are getting ready to split, and her brother's rebelled against his Upper East Side roots by joining a military school in Harlingen, Texas. Compared to her home life, Spencer implies, the circus freaks, clay shooters, and Christian rockers she covers seem almost sane.

FAIR ENOUGH. But is it terribly original to chortle at the goofiness and provincialism of the South? Although Southerners may recognize a dim likeness of themselves in Spencer's stereotypes, it isn't long before Spencer's golly-gee-whiz moments start to grate. Yes, Kyle, some people in the South have guns. Yes, it gets very, very warm in the summer. Yes, there are bookstores that specialize in selling Christian tchotchkes. And yes, people speak with an accent (though they do not, contrary to what this book will tell you, say "Thanky," at least not outside William Faulkner novels). But is another down-home memoir that veers in and out of outright mockery of what is, after all, more than a two-dimensional monoculture truly necessary?

Thankfully, Spencer is, bless her heart, a talented journalist. When she sticks to "the story"—her work at the News & Observer, her interactions with her charismatic boss, Kip—her writing shines. Her colorful characters—developers who just want to be understood, a homeless woman whose boyfriend has just been arrested for mass murder, a rock 'n' roll minister who wears green spangled tights and platform shoes—are the real heroes of this story, which, when it comes right down to it, is little more than a book about a snotty, rich New York white girl who wants to see how the other half lives. Surprisingly, the privileged, WASP-y Spencer becomes, very much despite herself, endearing by the book's end. Her charm saves this chatty memoir from devolving into an Ally-McBeal-braves-the-boonies cartoon.

ebarnett@seattleweekly.com

 
comments powered by Disqus