Perfectly Miserable: Guilt, God, and Real Estate in a Small Town

Sarah Payne Stuart. Riverhead, $27.95 (320p) ISBN 978-1-59463-181-8
A follow-up to Stuart's previous family memoir, My First Cousin Once Removed, this evenhanded work takes aim at her double-edged WASP childhood in Concord, Mass.—where she and her documentary-producer husband moved back to raise their three young children. Living again among the God-fearing, hard-working, parsimonious descendants of the early Puritan settlers—her mother's old money clan— Stuart felt comfortingly part of the Elect, yet also deeply conflicted. Concord was the storied seat of the Transcendentalists, artists and deep thinkers like Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne and the Bronson Alcott family, especially daughter Louisa May Alcott whose novel Little Women deeply informed Stuart's childhood. Guilt hovers over much of Stuart's sense of her childhood, involving her mother's depressive episodes and early breakdown, and her own desire to win her mother's approval, which she finally did by buying a house (well beyond their means) on Nashawtuc Hill—"I had known that I was too weak to resist the cozy beauty of the hill," she admits, "and the terrible lure of its desirability." Skillfully, Stuart buttresses her own family's neuroses with those of Thoreau or the Alcotts for a hilariously bracing and honest look at generational mayhem and triumph. (June)
Reviewed on: 12/01/2014
Release date: 06/01/2014
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 320 pages - 978-1-59463-390-4
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