If you’ve never pored over the real estate section long after your coffee has gone lukewarm, or gone to an open house for a place you have absolutely no intention of buying, you are a better person than I am. There is something beguiling, almost voyeuristic, about peeking into someone else’s home and imagining yourself living there.
The siren song of house-shopping has never been so exquisitely or cannily captured as in Meghan Daum’s memoir, which is ostensibly about her search for the perfect house. But it’s about so much more. She traces her parents’ own peripatetic tendencies (the family lived in Texas, California, Illinois and New Jersey during her childhood) and how it affected her own skewed definition of home. Daum moved no fewer than 10 times during her four years at Vassar College. After college, she did a stint in a pre-war apartment in Manhattan, followed by a move to a drafty farmhouse in Lincoln, Nebraska (where she based her thoroughly wonderful 2003 novel, The Quality of Life Report), before landing permanently (maybe) in Los Angeles just before the housing bubble burst.
Only after she dragged her possessions from one coast to the other did she realize that maybe the nomad routine was more about her search for identity than her search for shelter. It was about her need to live somewhere that would make her “downright fabulous.” Friends and potential suitors had to point at her latest choice of residence and say: “ ‘She’s no Ally McBeal in a twee Boston apartment with her roommate and hallucinations of maternal longing; she’s Jennifer Beals living alone with her pit bull in her loft in Flashdance. . . . She may not have a farm, but she’s still got a little Willa Cather in her. Someone buy this woman a drink!’ ”
Funny, self-deprecating and wise, Life Would Be Perfect If I Lived in That House is a joyously honest look at what Daum calls “mastering the nearly impossible art of how to be at home.”