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The Unspeakable : And Other Subjects of Discussion
by Meghan Daum


Overview -

Winner of the 2015 PEN Center USA Literary Award for Creative Nonfiction
"Daum is her generation's Joan Didion." "Nylon"

Nearly fifteen years after her debut collection, "My Misspent Youth," captured the ambitions and anxieties of a generation, Meghan Daum returns to the personal essay with "The Unspeakable," a masterful collection of ten new works.  Read more...


 
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More About The Unspeakable by Meghan Daum
 
 
 
Overview

Winner of the 2015 PEN Center USA Literary Award for Creative Nonfiction
"Daum is her generation's Joan Didion." "Nylon"

Nearly fifteen years after her debut collection, "My Misspent Youth," captured the ambitions and anxieties of a generation, Meghan Daum returns to the personal essay with "The Unspeakable," a masterful collection of ten new works. Her old encounters with overdrawn bank accounts and oversized ambitions in the big city have given way to a new set of challenges. The first essay, "Matricide," opens without flinching:

"People who weren't there like to say that my mother died at home surrounded by loving family. This is technically true, though it was just my brother and me and he was looking at Facebook and I was reading a profile of Hillary Clinton in the December 2009 issue of "Vogue.""
""
Elsewhere, she carefully weighs the decision to have children "I simply felt no calling to be a parent. As a role, as my role, it felt inauthentic and inorganic" and finds a more fulfilling path as a court-appointed advocate for foster children. In other essays, she skewers the marriage-industrial complex and recounts a harrowing near-death experience following a sudden illness. Throughout, Daum pushes back against the false sentimentality and shrink-wrapped platitudes that surround so much of contemporary American experience and considers the unspeakable thoughts many of us harbor that we might not love our parents enough, that "life's pleasures" sometimes feel more like chores, that life's ultimate lesson may be that we often learn nothing.
But Daum also operates in a comic register. With perfect precision, she reveals the absurdities of the New Age search for the "Best Possible Experience," champions the merits of cream-of mushroom-soup casserole, and gleefully recounts a quintessential "only-in-L.A." story of playing charades at a famous person's home.
Combining the piercing insight of Joan Didion with humor reminiscent of Nora Ephron's, Daum dissects our culture's most dangerous illusions, blind spots, and sentimentalities while retaining her own joy and compassion. Through it all, she dramatizes the search for an authentic self in a world where achieving an identity is never simple and never complete."

 
Details
  • ISBN-13: 9780374280444
  • ISBN-10: 0374280444
  • Publisher: Farrar Straus & Giroux
  • Publish Date: November 2014
  • Page Count: 244
  • Dimensions: 1 x 6 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 0.84 pounds


Related Categories

Books > Literary Collections > Essays
Books > Family & Relationships > Death, Grief, Bereavement

 
Publishers Weekly Reviews

Publishers Weekly® Reviews

  • Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
  • Review Date: 2014-08-25
  • Reviewer: Staff

Daum’s second essay collection is an engaging but uneven follow-up to her acclaimed 2001 debut, My Misspent Youth. “What I was in it for, what I was about, was the fieldwork aspect,” she writes in “The Best Possible Experience,” a lighthearted essay about dating and marriage. Daum brings this anthropological lens to all of her essays, often weaving social critique into personal narrative. In “Difference Maker,” she describes volunteering with the juvenile court system, leading to the revelation that “children who wind up in foster aren’t just in a different neighborhood. They inhabit a world so dark it may as well exist outside of our solar system.” Daum is a smart and candid writer, but the collection’s title promises a kind of deviance that she never quite delivers. “The Joni Mitchell Problem” details her embarrassing love for Joni Mitchell and a dinner they had together; “Honorary Dyke” examines the author’s skin-deep identification with lesbian culture; and “The Dog Exception” makes one wonder whether the world needs any more writing about pets. But in “Matricide,” a frank and affecting account of her mother’s death, Daum proves that she can wrestle with ghosts. “In the history of the world, a whole story has never been told,” she writes. But that shouldn’t stop her from trying. (Nov.)

 
BookPage Reviews

Looking at life from both sides

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.

 

This article was originally published in the December 2014 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

 
BAM Customer Reviews