PERFECTLY MISERABLE

GUILT, GOD AND REAL ESTATE IN A SMALL TOWN

A writer’s wickedly droll account of how she came to terms with her WASP heritage and the impossible expectations of “mother” New England.

With its “pristine town center, gleaming with historically correct colors,” Stuart’s (My First Cousin Once Removed: Money, Madness, and the Family of Robert Lowell, 1998, etc.) hometown of Concord, Massachusetts, seemed the embodiment of perfection. But as Stuart well knew, high-flying moral pretensions, hypocrisy, and an insatiable hunger for social prestige and high-priced real estate bubbled just beneath the deceptively charming surface. In this wry memoir, the author explores her relationship with her hometown and with a whole host of Concord notables, from Ralph Waldo Emerson and Nathanial Hawthorne to Louisa May Alcott, whose fictional mother Marmee—and the perpetually miserable Alcott matriarch on whom she was based—represents everything good and bad about New England culture. A rebel who defied the WASP values of thrift, practicality and quiet snobbery, Payne fled Concord for New York after an early marriage. Yet within 10 years of leaving, her longing to return home became “obsessive.” Concord had “become a kind of utopia, where [she] would give her children the perfect childhood.” It also became a personal testing ground where she fantasized she could engage in error-free parenting while earning the approval of her own mother and father. Instead, Stuart found herself moving into larger and larger homes she and her husband could not afford and joining exclusive social clubs, all in the name of maintaining the facade of WASP success. Seeking enlightenment about her dilemmas and compulsions, the author examines her family’s personal history as well as Concord literary history. She learned that her pattern of feeling guilt and smugness on the one hand and seeing nonexistent coziness on the other were part of a heritage best survived through self-deprecating humor.

Satire at its finest.

Pub Date: June 12, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-59463-181-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: May 7, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 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 48 LAWS OF POWER

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...

NIGHT

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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