Study in Perfect is an exploration of perfection. In “Moving Horizontal” a Victorian house loses its charm over time, especially when compared to a modernist contemporary filled with light. Family life is dense with pleasure, as in the perfect vacation described in “Marking Time in Door County,” and in “Neriage, or What Is the Secret of a Long Marriage,” where an ancient Japanese ceramic technique has much in common with shaping a close relationship. There is such a thing as a perfect cup of tea, depending on who is preparing and drinking it (“Perfect Tea”). And schmaltzy show tunes flowing from a black-lacquered piano in a Chinese restaurant can be genuinely moving (“Sentimental à la Carte”).
Naturally, Gorham must embrace imperfection. The poisonous mushrooms in “Darling Amanita” lead to a consideration of our darker impulses, like obsessive love, even murder. And there is pain: “The Shape of Fear” relates the story of a child stricken with a deadly staph infection, as it considers the function and form of fear. And alcoholism, the family disease no one wants to talk about, is poised against The Cat in the Hat, a story everyone has read and enjoyed.
Study in Perfect winds its way around and through the many permutations of this most hermetic and exalted concept and proceeds with the full consciousness that perfection’s exact definition is subjective, reliant on who is speaking, and easily unmoored by time, geography, and the vagaries of taste.
Study in Perfect
is a book that wholeheartedly delves into 'the many faceted idea of perfection.' Drawing from the realms of science, philosophy, linguistics, social history, and personal reminiscence, the writer uses the abundance of knowledge and intuition at her disposal to define these facets. In doing so, she probes the human capacity to imagine perfection and to seek its illusive promise despite the odds against finding it. In many ways, this is a book about yearning and im
perfection as much as it is about the ideals we strive for, and the author’s humanizing touch makes Study in Perfect
not only informative but emotionally rewarding as well. It’s not often that I encounter a writer whose prose is this precise and lyrical and whose imaginative leaps are as articulate, unpredictable, and entertaining.
Essays and musings considering the elusive and evocative idea of perfection. . . . 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.
—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Study in Perfect
is a well-curated essay collection that examines the breadth and depth of the ideal of perfection. . . . Every detail has been attended to, from the project level to the sentence level. The cover is serene and appealing; it echoes perfectly the calm, reflective tone of the book.
This superb collection from Gorham, author of poetry collections (Bad Daughter
) and Sarabande Books’s editor-in-chief, exemplifies the best in creative nonfiction. . . . The prose is simple—the very opposite of acrobatic—yet also surprising, fresh, and rhythmic. . . . No collection is perfect . . . but this book comes gloriously close.
—Publisher's Weekly (starred review)
Gorham’s voice is often philosophical, asking unanswerable questions and proposing theories about how the world works. . . . To support her elegant conclusions, Gorham draws examples from history, linguistics, pop culture, science, and literature, as in her fascinating exploration of the species of poisonous mushroom, Amanita fulva
, featured in the legend of two doomed lovers. But rather than remaining in the distant hypothetical or the realm of history or legend, most of Gorham’s examples of perfection and imperfection are solidly embodied in a particular life: its physical environments, human attachments, and trials and tragedies. Things do
fall apart. And when they do, we have the opportunity to see how our idea of perfect may need revision.
—Claire Eder, BREVITY
In addition to blurring the boundary between poetry and prose, Gorham's writing is wonderfully free from other traditional boundaries—the personal and intimate bump right up against linguistics, literary analysis, architectural theory and other academic discourses.
—Laura Snyder, LEO Weekly
Gorham explores [a complex, disorderly reality] with exceptional grace. In most of [the] essays she mines her own life, deeply and bravely, with touches of humor and unsparing self-analysis. . . . There’s a relentless quality to Gorham’s objectivity in a lot of these essays. She seems determined to let no one—least of all herself—go unquestioned. . . . Study in Perfect
is a highly literary collection—it digresses and ruminates and assumes a certain level of sophistication in its reader. There’s nothing inaccessible or opaque about these essays, however. They make use of some conceptual drapery, but they’re really concerned with the messy love and pain of living amid the desire, common to us all, for a life more nearly perfect.
—Maria Browning, Chapter 16
As in poetry, Gorham’s essays maximize white space, incorporate imagery, make surprising leaps, and provide some of the best reading in the genre one could find. They are each entertaining, beautifully written, and possess what has been referred to as a built-in mechanism for provoking meditation.
—Grace Curtis, Antioch Review