Review: The Unspeakable by Meghan Daum

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cover unspeakable each line is unspeakable but with one more letter filled in“When I teach writing students, I often tell them that nobody will love their work if some people don’t also hate it.”

Writer Meghan Daum states this in the introduction of her collection of essays as she suspects her own book will be equally loved and hated. The Unspeakable: And Other Subjects of Discussion (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014) contains 10 personal essays on a variety of topics from dogs to Joni Mitchell. By portraying her innermost feelings, (some of which could be perceived as publicly inappropriate because they go against social norms), she wanted to examine what she really felt during certain situations, such that “we might not love our parents enough” or that “’life’s pleasures sometimes feel more like chores,” rather than a widely accepted reaction.


For example, in her essay “The Best Possible Experience,” Daum considers the institution of marriage and how it seems to have have a formula–that people and their years of educational pursuits (or lack thereof) affect how and who and when they marry. There is some truth behind this notion, yet many will surely dismiss it, knowing that they themselves married out of convenience or because they felt they should. Similarly, in “Honorary Dyke,” she confesses her admiration for the trends set by lesbians, such as the short, cropped hair and what it might entail to be considered “butch.” But, while realizing that she’s not a lesbian, by merely by mimicking their social appearances, she is proud to be accepted among them, stating bluntly, “You don’t have to take communion to be a member of the church.” On a similar note, in “Difference Maker” she states, “I would still look at a woman pushing a baby stroller and feel more pity than envy.” She never felt as if she should become a mother; rather, she felt her job was to focus on her writing and teaching. It is apparent that Daum is one who listens to her heart and speaks its truth, no matter how harsh the words may seem to traditionalists.

Those who read through her essays may find themselves criticizing or disagreeing with her ideas, but there will be many who identify, as I have, especially with the areas of her life that aren’t considered traditional, such as choosing not to be a parent nor being a “foodie,” and loving dogs more fiercely than humans or even children. Her essay “The Joni Mitchell Problem” was quite entertaining, but at times came across as if reading a college thesis on the topic, and “Diary of a Coma” read more like a diary than an essay, yet it brought the entire collection to a full circle.

Perhaps following the honesty behind Jong’s wildly acclaimed 1970s Fear of Flying, Meghan Daum has a penchant for speaking frankly, which takes courage. The essays do not read as confessionals, rather as explanations of how one woman’s heart clearly beats to a different drummer. However, Daum is not alone, and as Jong had once suggested, women’s voices—their honesty—should be heard.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

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