A contemplative, lyrical, splendid collection.


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.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8203-4712-7

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Univ. of Georgia

Review Posted Online: June 11, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2014

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.


The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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