Study in Perfect

Sarah Gorham

Writings that probe the human capacity to imagine perfection and to cope with imperfection


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 imperfection 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.”
—Bernard Cooper, author of The Bill from My Father: A Memoir

"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)

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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.

Association of Writers and Writing Programs Award for Creative Nonfiction

Page count: 224 pp.
1 b&w photo, 4 illustrations, 1 chart
Trim size: 5.5 x 8.5


List price: $24.95

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List price: $19.95

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List price: $24.95
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Sarah Gorham is a poet, essayist, and president and editor in chief at Sarabande Books, an independent literary press publishing poetry, short fiction, and essays.