Once upon a time there was a young writer named Meghan Daum whose work won the admiration of one of cyberspace's many inhabitants. The fan in question, a certain PFSlider, emailed Daum, told her he had a "crazy crush" on her, proposed marriage and asked her to lunch. The meeting that ensued between reader and writer—boy meets girl, with a contemporary twist—is recounted in "On the Fringes of the Physical World," an essay in Daum's new collection My Misspent Youth.

Such is the effect of Daum's work on her readers. Full of honesty, insight and wicked wit, My Misspent Youth is her first book, and it has garnered Daum comparisons with Joan Didion. Examining a society lost in the allure of material possessions, the collection probes modern life using Daum's own experiences as a filter. With velvet incision, she pierces "the personal banalities to something larger and worth telling," both issuing invitation and provoking challenge to readers interested in having an authentic relationship to the world around them.
 
Heard frequently on NPR's Morning Edition reading sharp pieces about her new home in rural Nebraska, Daum may be best known for the essay, "In My Misspent Youth." Originally published in The New Yorker, the narrative examines the clash of romantic fantasies and financial realities that characterize living in New York City.
 
In this wonderful debut collection, Daum escorts her readers through such diverse subjects as the publishing industry, polyamorous subcultures and the world of flight attendants.
 
Despite their disparity, these pieces successfully hang together because, as Daum puts it, "they are about remoteness. They are about missing the point. They are about the fictional narratives that overpower the actual events, the cartoon personae that elbow the live figure out of the frame."
 
These essays, written not in breath-taking, but in authentic, breath-giving prose, probe experiences to which we can all relate. My Misspent Youth marks the arrival of a brave new writer.
 
Temple West writes from Norfolk, Virginia.

 

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