How could a collection of personal essays about “unspeakable acts that teach no easy lessons” not peak one’s curiosity? It did mine. So did author Meghan Daum’s comment of her book, The Unspeakable and Other Subjects of Discussion:
“I suspect this is the kind of book that winds up being loved and hated in equal measure. I’d be thrilled if that was the outcome, actually.” Why? As she tells her writing students, “nobody will love their work if some people don’t also hate it.” Having published works in provocative territory, I could relate.
In The Unspeakable Daum shows us mastery of the essay. She brings us into her personal experiences while inspiring reflection about ourselves and our own lives. In reading these essays I either related to a thematic nugget or found myself taking my eyes from the page for at least for a moment or two to think about my own life – or both.
She starts out boldly with an essay about her mother’s last days, and with candid reflections and realities about her relationship with her. It made me think even more about my relationship with my own mother, which has been wonderful, but now is changing as she slides deeper into dementia.
I was particularly curious about “Difference Maker,” which goes into her story about how she landed on not having children by choice. We’re taken inside how her relationship with her husband turned her into a bit of a “waffler” when it came to kids, and what led her to feeling “permanent ambivalence.”
In this essay, this nugget hit home for me: “I simply felt no calling to be a parent….It felt unnecessary. It felt like not what I was supposed to be doing with my life.” Many childfree men and women I have talked with and/or interviewed over the years would also resonate with the well-put expression of why they opt out of parenthood.
When it came to kids, what was she supposed to be doing with her life? You’ll never guess, I guarantee it, but I will guarantee you will learn about the realities of kids who get lost between the cracks. You’ll also get up close and personal with how she and her husband feel differently about wanting to raise children.
Is being authentic the same as being romantic? How is happiness different than contentment? How and why is the latter a “tall order?” We chew on these kinds of questions with her. From nostalgia for decades past, to the agony of pet death, to the exploration of “butch,” to unforgettable events of forgetfulness, to charades with the stars, and a near-death experience, we get let in to some slices of Daum and how she’s walking the path of her life. Her lovely writing also pokes smart critique at our culture, and making sense out of life living within it.
As Sigrid Nunez writes about The Unspeakable, book, it’s a “brave, truth-telling book.” Daum’s courage to share honest accounts as part of her exploration of the authentic self in today’s world truly embraces what it means to live true. It’s a definite addition to the LiveTrue collection.
Postscript: Seems she’s not done talking about not having kids. Daum has another book coming out at the end of this month: Selfish, Shallow and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids. Watch for a review here!