The XX Factor

Book of the Week: “Life Would Be Perfect If I Lived in That House”

When I read Meghan Daum ‘s first book, a collection of essays about her 20s called My Misspent Youth , I, too, was in my early 20s. Daum was writing from the perspective of a particular kind of New York City girl, the kind who attended an indie liberal-arts college, works in media, and fetishizes hardwood floors -I was the same kind of girl, and the essays captured the experience so acutely that it almost made me want to give up writing my own essays. She’d already covered that ground, and better than I could.

It is clear from the title essay of that first collection that Daum used real estate to orient herself: “Everything I did, every decision I made … was based on an unwavering determination to live in a prewar, oak-floored apartment, on or at least in the immediate vicinity of 104 th Street and West End Avenue,” she wrote in My Misspent Youth . Daum’s shelter obsession is the topic of her entertaining new memoir, Life Would Be Perfect If I Lived in That House .

Daum starts the book by cleverly framing her real-estate frenzy alongside the nation’s. She bought her house in 2004, when it was “scarcely possible” to “attend a party or even get your teeth cleaned without falling into a conversation about real estate: its significance, its desirability, its increasing aura of unattainability. My dental hygienist, for example, had robust opinions about reverse mortgages.” Daum explains that while the country’s home-buying fever was temporary, hers has been lifelong.

She talks about all the spaces her family has lived in-and the separate spaces her parents maintained once they no longer wanted to be together. As in her earlier work, she is delightful and vivid when describing her peripatetic young adulthood. In her final two years of college, she would move seven times, she tells the reader. “While I knew on a logical level that none of [my] hardships were directly linked to my being housed on the fifth floor of a dormatory,” Daum writes, “I somehow remained convinced that the first step towards a cure involved not a library copy of Death in Venice or a junior-year-abroad application but several cardboard boxes and some large plastic bags.”

For the next two decades Daum looks for salvation in a new abode. She lives in houses and apartments in New York, Nebraska, and California, in both urban and rural settings. She is looking for a house to “make her whole,” she says, but ultimately realizes that “there’s more to life than moving. For instance, just being alive.” That conclusion may sound trite, but the journey that Daum takes you on in her quest for a home-and a more profound sense of self-is familiar while still being nuanced and smart.