My First Cousin Once Removed: Money, Madness, and the Family of Robert Lowell

Sarah Payne Stuart, Author HarperCollins Publishers $25 (244p) ISBN 978-0-06-017689-1
There is undeniable charm in a memoirist who is aware of his or her own failings and can render them plainly. This is the case with Stuart, who admittedly doesn't much ""get"" the poetry of her mother's famous first cousin--and doesn't much care to. That this anti-intellectualism is more the rule than the exception in her family becomes clear as Stuart details generations of Lowells, Paynes and Winslows--many of whom emerge much more clearly here than in Lowell's poems or in previous portraits of the artist. The moneyed Uncle Cot and matriarchal Aunt Sarah, Lowell's grandfather Arthur Winslow (""He was my father,"" Lowell wrote of him), Grandmother ""Gaga"" and Uncle Devereux are all clearly and dispassionately drawn, and add to the reading of poems in which they appear. Lowell himself moves through the story as one whose doings are much discussed by the family, and Stuart wryly analyzes what the family thought of, say, his Pulitzer Prize for his first book at age 30, or his front-page letter to the New York Times declining an invitation to the Johnson White House in protest of the Vietnam War. But the main protagonist here--aside from the family obsession with money and standing--is the manic depression that seems to run through the family, claiming, among others, Lowell and Stuart's mother and brothers, whose trials dominate the last third of the book. Still, it is Stuart's own voice that makes this book so appealing. Whether sympathetically skewering her kin, dissecting her own inheritance or digressing within a beloved anecdote, she is unfailingly forthright and clear-eyed. (Oct.) FYI: Stuart also offers a family's-eye view of Robert Lowell's marriage to his second wife, Elizabeth Hardwick, whose Sight-Readings (Forecasts, May 25) appeared this July.
Reviewed on: 09/28/1998
Release date: 09/01/1998
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 260 pages - 978-0-06-093036-3
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