Life Would Be Perfect If I Lived in That House
Life Would Be Perfect If I Lived in That House
Meghan Daum
Knopf, 2010
256 pp., $24.95

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Lauren Winner

Book Notes

The perfect house: then what?

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I have loved Meghan Daum's writing since that essay she wrote for The New Yorker money issue in 1999. Since then, she has detailed her life with self-deprecating humor, first in My Misspent Youth, which chronicled her move from New York (she could no longer afford to live there) to Nebraska, and then, fictitiously, in The Quality of Life Report. Now she's given us a second memoir, about her hunt for, and emotional attachment to, a house.

It was 2004. Daum was single, childless, generally rootless, and obsessed with buying a house. She was not alone, of course. Everyone was talking housing, and people attended weekend open-houses as a hobby; as Daum notes, even her dental hygienist had strong opinions about mortgage structures. But Daum wasn't interested in houses primarily because they were (thought to be) a good investment. For Daum, this was about identity and belonging: she was "hungry to the point of weakness for something that would root me to the earth." And she did find a house—a 900-sqaure-foot bungalow built in 1928, for which she shelled out $450,000 (she'd offered $432k, but, remember, these were the days when sellers made high counter-offers and buyers didn't blink). Suffice it to say, the house did not make her life perfect—in fact, a sort of post-purchase depression seemed to sink in. The memoir ends with her finding meaning elsewhere (I will not spoil the suspense by divulging just where). This funny, insightful book will go on my shelf next to Witold Rubczynski's The Most Beautiful House in the World and George Howe Colt's The Big House, meditations not just on the meaning of home, but of houses.

Lauren Winner is an assistant professor at Duke Divinity School.

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