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Unspeakable and Other Subjects of Discussion by Meghan Daum

Unspeakable and Other Subjects of Discussion by Meghan Daum

unspeakableDo you know who Meghan Daum is? If you do, you are one step ahead of me. She wrote a previous collection of essays titled ‘My Misspent Youth’ and if I had seen that title I guarantee I would have pulled it off the shelf based on curiosity alone. As it is, the title I found myself confronted with was ‘Unspeakable and Other Subjects for Discussion’ – a collection of essays published in 2014, almost fifteen years after her first book. Daum is a columnist, which I’m quickly finding out is a good way to stay in the habit of writing, for the LA Times. The title of this collection of essays is ‘Unspeakable’ because Daum goes into her personal narrative brain to put on paper major themes in her life that are not regular topics of conversation. Do we all have unspeakables? Yes, I would argue we do. Whether yours is relentless self-comparison or uncomfortable but necessary family arrangements we all are tied to some truths that don’t come with good feelings. Daum understands this and seems content to use writing as her catharsis, as if saying it on paper will once and for all close the book on the parts of her she has doubted.

One of the central themes for Daum is relationship. This series of essays begins with a circular patterned story that involves generations of women who do not want to be like the one that raised them. This leads to a childhood for Daum that is punctuated by an exaggerated need by her mother to ‘be free’. Daum sees her mother’s efforts as forced and feels coerced into going along with a version of life her mother makes up and embellishes. This resentment builds until Daum herself faces growing older and the infinite question of whether she will have her own children; an activity she’s decided is likely linked to being a great distraction for the getting old. There are other relationships of course, but each takes us to a point where the truth is not so easy or clean. Even if it’s ugly, Daum would rather have it on the table rather than create an illusory tale about herself.

At times Daum is not likeable, but always to be admired, in my opinion, for the truth. There are ten essays in this book and each will quietly make you wonder to yourself how you fit in, or if you were the one who had kids to ignore aging. These are good questions to ask ourselves as human beings and there is something (I’m not sure what, really) to be said for reading someone else’s reflections. But I guess that’s just it, reflection, good or bad, helps us to navigate and understand the mangled heap that makes us so imperfectly human: emotions. So give me more brutal honesty, I think I can take it.

~a post from Heather

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