The art of being truly funny is an undervalued one in these angst-ridden times, but it is an ability that acclaimed novelist Sarah Payne Stuart has in abundance. Her talents have never been on more glorious display than in "My First Cousin Once Removed", a memoir-- at once hilarious, personal and sad-- of her extraordinary Boston Brahmin family, whose most famous member is the legendary poet Robert Lowell, the author's first cousin (once removed).
Sarah Payne Stuart grew up in a family of aristocratic lineage whose fortune had long ago been lost. (Among the many family documents cited is a Boston Globe article in which Lowell's bankrupt grandfather is quoted in his will as having left his children their good breeding and Boston heritage.) Stuart's upbringing carried with it a heady sense of privilege and entitlement, but without the money to back it up. This dichotomy-- of being both anointed and strapped, of needing to keep up a brave front at all costs, even when members of successive generations of the family (including the author's brother and famous cousin) find themselves locked up in mental wards-- forms the heart of this story. An irreverent and clear-sighted mediation on the claustrophobic yet seductive bonds of family, as well as an intimate portrait of a famous man, "My First Cousin Once Removed" is a wry and haunting story of survival in the midst of instability and dynastic decline.
Praise for Sarah Payne Stuart and "My First Cousin Once Removed"
"From a sometimes painful family history, Sarah Payne Stuart has created a poignant, funny, and ultimately triumphant memoir filled with great warmth and wisdom. Written in a refreshing, unforgettable voice which never falters nor sentimentalizes, "My First Cousin Once Removed" is a thoroughly terrific book." --Doris Kerns Goodwin
"Stuart is a deft writer who knows to snare her audience with brilliant, bitter-black humor while touching lightly but with sure, probing fingers of our darker fears, our least favorite wounds." --Seattle Weekly
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"Stuart [is] an exceedingly likable memoirist, showing rueful grace, a sharp sense of humor, and a charming directness."-- "Boston Sunday Globe""Fine, sad, funny...Like all good memoirs, Stuart's provides entree into an entire swath of history and the places where it unfolded, with the added bonus that her family's story is attached to 300 years of America's...She learned many lessons from her study of a distinguished, tragic past, and we can count ourselves lucky that she put them together in this outstanding book."-- Celia McGee, "Boston Magazine""Vivid and compelling...What makes Stuart's volume impressive is her empathetic group portrait of the Lowell clan, her unflappable refusal to sensationalize or aggrandize them, and a dry wit that is her principal tool in making sense of a large extended family." --" Chicago Tribune""This story about family craziness seems, in and of itself, so remarkably and cheerfully sane. It is a survivor's story, with so much intelligence, humor, and affection brought to bear that even the monsters it occasionally offers up arc appealing."-- "New York Times Book Review"About the Author:
Sarah Payne Stuart is the author of the acclaimed novels Men in Trouble and The Year Roger Wasn't Well. She lives in Concord, Massachusetts, with her husband and three children.
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