BookPage Nonfiction Top Pick, December 2014
When Meghan Daum published her first collection in 2001—the brilliant My Misspent Youth—her fresh, honest musings as a Manhattan 20-something immediately made her the envy of a generation of aspiring writers.
Now Daum is approaching middle age, but her voice is as singular and her insights as poignant as ever. A married newspaper columnist in Los Angeles, Daum deals with aging parents, health scares and her decision to remain child-free in a baby-obsessed world.
Right out of the gate, it’s easy to see why this collection of essays is called The Unspeakable. Daum starts off with the searing “Matricide,” in which she recalls her fraught relationship with her now-deceased mother, a woman she calls a “flashy, imperious, hyperbolic theater person” with a “phoniness that I was allergic to on every level.” Unspeakable, indeed. And yet . . . who can say they’ve never been annoyed with their mom? The rest of us just don’t have the ability to say it quite as potently and incisively as Daum.
Reflections on love and death are woven throughout the essays. In the melancholy “Not What it Used to Be,” Daum writes wistfully of being her Older Self looking back on her Younger Self, “someone who took multiple forms, who could go in any direction, who might be a bartender or a guitar player or a lesbian or a modern dancer or an office temp on Sixth Avenue.”
In the bittersweet “Difference Maker,” Daum examines her decision not to have children, how she and her husband struggle to ignore an amorphous Central Sadness in their relationship and find satisfaction in their “life of dog hikes and quiet dinners and friends coming over on the weekends.”
Daum draws out larger truths about life whether she’s writing about Joni Mitchell, foodies or dogs. The Unspeakable is a stunner of a book about settling into one’s skin.