Life Would be Perfect if I Lived in That House
Meghan Daum

The moral of this story might run be careful what you wish for, especially if the house you get doesn’t live up to the fantasy you’ve been harboring. For Meghan Daum, novelist, essayist, L.A. Times columnist and extreme home aficiando, the pursuit is ninety percent of the game. Dreaming of houses, looking at houses online, making the rounds of open houses, even property stalking is all part of the condition Daum refers to as “house lust.” And we’ve all been there—I know I certainly have—pining after a place because it embodies the ideal life that might be lived there.

I bought a house because I was thirty-four years old, had been self-employed most of my adult life, had never been married, was childless, had no boyfriend nor any appealing prospects in that department, and was hungry to the point of weakness for something that would root me to this earth.

Life Would Be Perfect If I Lived in That House is a kind of residential coming of age story, in which Daum tells of how she came be a homeowner. She also tracks growing up in places that never quite lived up to the dream and her formidable mother’s influence in seeking and improving the many homes the family occupied, from Texas to New Jersey.

There’s an inherent narrative to be found in the places we’ve lived, the serial addresses are a document of our peripatetic student years (or, in Daum’s terms, “tapestry-covered, grad-student-style impermanence”), to the single years of work and career, and if we’re lucky, to a relatively stable adulthood. It’s all there in the places we’ve lived, though through it all, Daum is plagued by a persistent nagging sense that there’s a better house down the block, or uptown, or on the coast. It’s that hankering for the indescribable transformation arrival to a new place brings, and it drives this memoir of house-yearning.

…this is the story of what happens when, for whatever reason, your identity becomes almost totally wrapped up not in who you are or how you live, but in where you live.

Daum, the author of a novel (The Quality of Life Report) and an essay collection, My Misspent Youth, has a confessional, chatty style that complements her subject. After all, what is a house but details? Post and beam, tongue and groove, flooring, cabinetry, the colors of the walls and the contours of the land it sits on. And though the detail can at times overwhelm, happily this tale of what it’s like to settle for—and settle down—shows us what it’s like when the house-hunting stops and life finally begins.

Meghan Daum’s new collection of essays, The Unspeakable and Other Subjects of Discussion, in due to be released in November.

Lauren Alwan

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