Essays and musings considering the elusive and evocative idea of perfection.
In these tender, elegant essays, poet and Sarabande Books president Gorham (Bad Daughter, 2011, etc.) explores cultural, personal and philosophical meanings of the “slippery term” perfect. Ten short pieces consider such topics as “Perfect Tea” (Twinings Irish Breakfast, prepared in a microwave), “Perfect Sleep” (morphine-induced, following a C-section) and “Perfect Conversation” (fulfilling the definition of perfection as “That which has attained its purpose”): “I love you,” “I love you too.” A dozen longer essays elaborate on “the many permutations of this most hermetic and exalted concept” in the author’s life. In “Moving Horizontal,” a four-story Victorian, which had served the family perfectly as Gorham’s children grew up, suddenly feels claustrophobic; more perfect for a couple’s empty nest is an open-plan modern house, filled not with souvenirs but with light. “The Changeling” is Gorham’s sister, born microcephalic, who becomes the center of the family’s life: Her mother embraced her role as an activist for the handicapped; her father sold lemonade to raise funds; a sister volunteered at state institutions. “Beckie was our wabi,” writes the author, “the distinctive flaw that made our family an exquisite paragon. This Japanese concept, with its sister sabi, guides us with three important principles: nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect.” Gorham’s marriage surely was not perfect: “A Drinker’s Guide to The Cat in the Hat” juxtaposes the chaos wrought by Dr. Seuss’ wily protagonist with the impact of her husband’s alcoholism on the family. Wary after he underwent treatment, the author likens the possibility of his relapse to the cat, looming menacingly outside the family’s windows, “Raring to go and ready for FUN.” Fear during a daughter’s life-threatening illness, grief over her mother’s death, nostalgia for family gatherings in summers past: All lead Gorham to consider how perfection is interlaced with pain, desire and even sin.
A contemplative, lyrical, splendid collection.