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Life would be perfect if …

May 31, 2010

In her amusing new memoir, Meghan Daum says she moved 18 times in 15 years. Her addresses changed from New York City apartments to Nebraska farmhouses to Los Angeles rental homes. She writes in the prologue that we’re about to find out what happens when identity becomes almost totally wrapped up in where you live. (In a snapshot, if you’re not planning to move, then you’re moving.) It’s an obsession for Daum that believes a fresh start comes with a new home.  Fueling this obsession is her splintered self-image, one as a Carrie Bradshaw city girl à la Sex in the City, the other as a wilderness girl à la Maggie O’Connell in Northern Exposure.

Daum’s many moves at first seem acceptable for an energetic young Gen Xer, perhaps excessive yet understandable due to location or landlord or roommate issues in New York City. Her relocation to Lincoln, Nebraska, where she rents a farmhouse with a boyfriend for two years, even seems OK. But then the insanity kicks in. Daum leaves Lincoln to settle in Los Angeles. She’s actually driving out of town for the last time and makes a quick detour to look longingly at a farmhouse that’s for sale. She gets to L.A. and convinces herself she can rent in L.A. and own the adored farmhouse in Lincoln. The seller, however, refuses her offer that’s above the asking price (she’s nuts to think she can manage the farm). Daum ends up purchasing another Lincoln farmhouse, which she ditches before the closing, realizing she’s not the wilderness girl she wants to be.

Daum’s writing style is breezy, witty and lively while describing how she moves into dwellings that are perfect for what she imagines for herself but in reality uninhabitable (such as the brown water coming from the faucets in the farmhouse). Indeed, Daum is delightful reading company. So much so that it’s easy to overlook two minor problems. She neither goes into detail about how she finances her moves nor shares how she tolerates hauling her belongings from one place to the next. And yet those are the two things that come to mind for everyone who’s struggled to come up with a security deposit or down payment, let alone moved a sleeper sofa or a library of books.

Daum lives in so many rental houses in L.A. I couldn’t keep them straight. Eventually, she buys a 900-square-foot problem-ridden bungalow that demands she look at her commitment-phobic, self-image problem. Life Would Be Perfect If I Lived In That House concludes with a satisfying transformation; however, despite the clever, entertaining writing, I don’t think Daum’s story requires the length of a book to reach this point. A long New Yorker essay would have been just as satisfying. Still, Daum’s humorous view on life makes you want to spend time with her, no matter what form her writing takes.

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