Monday, December 1, 2014

book review: The Unspeakable by Meghan Daum

The basics: Unspeakable: And Other Subjects of Discussion is a collection of essays, all written for this specific collection, that explores life and our reactions to its events. From the introduction: "I wanted to look at why we so often feel guilty or even ashamed when we don’t feel the way we’re “supposed to feel” about the big (and sometimes even small) events of our lives. I wanted to examine the ways in which so many aspects of contemporary American life—where we live, who we love, when or if we choose to settle down with a partner, what we eat, why we appreciate the art and music and literature that we do, how we expect to die and what we expect of the dying—seem to come shrink-wrapped in a layer of bathos."

My thoughts: 2014 is the year I realized how much I love personal essays. Meghan Daum is an author I've followed for years, and I've always enjoyed the essays I've read in collections and periodicals. Why in the world did it take me so long to dig into an entire collection of hers? It certainly won't take me long to devour the rest of her work. With Unspeakable, Daum has cemented herself as one of my favorite writers. The collection's opening essay, "Matricide," is a brutally honest, poignant, and somewhat devastating exploration of her relationship with her mother and her mother's relationship with her mother. It's built upon the deaths of both women. I winced more than once, but I was also moved deeply. The essay is a tour de force. When I finished it, I marveled that Daum placed it first because I couldn't imagine how the rest of the collection could measure up to "Matricide." I shouldn't have worried.

There isn't a weak essay in this collection, and I celebrate a collection written as a collection. These essays are all thematically linked, and the events bleed into one another in both expected and unexpected ways. The end result is that this collection felt like a memoir. It's deeply personal, and I feel like Meghan Daum is both a friend and my soul sister. I can't know if her essays touch me so deeply because of our similarities or because she has the ability to reach many people so deeply: "This was an incredible evening. And the best part was that it was over now. The entire time, all I had thought was that I couldn’t wait for it to end so I could go home and talk about it for the rest of my life."

Her writing is warm and inviting despite the sometimes difficult subject matter. Daum manages to write with clarity, humor, grace and wisdom. To do so while tackling issues both large and small is a gift:
"Most of us have unconscious disbeliefs about our lives, facts that we accept at face value but that still cause us to gasp just a little when they pass through our minds at certain angles. Mine are these: that my mother is dead, that the Vatican actually had it in itself to select a pope like Pope Francis, and that I am now older than the characters on thirtysomething."
Favorite passage:  "Life, of course, is a process of elimination. To grow up and get to know yourself is primarily an exercise in taking things off the table."

The verdict: How much did I love The Unspeakable? My Kindle copy tells me I highlighted 32 passages in 256 pages. I began to pause after reading each essay to reflect on it. I can't recommend The Unspeakable highly enough.

Rating: 5 out of 5
Length: 256 pages
Publication date: November 18, 2014
Source: purchased

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy The Unspeakable from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit Meghan Daum's website, like her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter

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1 comment:

  1. This sounds like a fantastic collection! I'm really looking forward to Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed, an essay collection edited by Daum coming out in March.


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