Litstack Recs: Life Would be Perfect if I Lived in That House & A Natural History of Dragons

by Lauren Alwan

Life Would be Perfect if I Lived in That House, by 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 aficiondo, 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 tale, one in which Daum tells of how, through a series of false starts, hopes, and her family’s ritual of visiting open houses, 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. If you’ve never read Daum before, be prepared for lively sentences and wry tone, which along with her virtuoso sense of pacing, make for an addictive read you’ll likely finish too soon.

There’s a natural story line 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, a relatively stable adulthood. It’s all there in the places we’ve lived, though for Daum, she’s plagued by a persistent nagging sense that there’s a better house some place else—down the block, or uptown, or on the coast. House-yearning is what drives this memoir, the indescribable transformation that a new place brings.

…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, LA Times columnist, author of a novel (The Quality of Life Report) two essay collections, My Misspent Youth and The Unspeakable and Other Topics of Discussion, is known for her trademark confessional style. It works well in Life Would Be Perfect, because 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.

—Lauren Alwan

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