cover image American Elegy: A Family Memoir

American Elegy: A Family Memoir

Jeffrey Simpson / Author Dutton Books $23.95 (240p) ISBN 978-0

This richly detailed and engrossing memoir by Simpson, a contributing editor to Architectural Digest, is a tribute to a small town and a culture. A descendant of one of the families that settled Parnassus, Pa., in the foothills of the Allegheny Mountains, the author recalls his early years there until he moved to a suburb of Pittsburgh as a teenager. Relying on historical records, family anecdotes and his own reminiscences, Simpson traces the life of this farming community from the 1770s, when his Scotch-Irish and German ancestors struggled to clear the wilderness, until the 1970s, when Parnassus, declining in population, died. In well-crafted prose, he recreates images of parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts, and describes the values of hard work and community that sustained them. He also tries to understand the emotional lives of the people he writes about. In a haunting passage, Simpson illuminates the repressed life of Aunt May, a strong woman who nonetheless devoted herself to a man for 40 years even though he refused to marry her. (Sept.)