Book Review: Study in Perfect by Sarah Gorham
Study in Perfect
Essays by Sarah Gorham
University of Georgia Press, September 2014
Reviewed by B.J. Hollars
In her debut essay collection, Study in Perfect—the 2013 winner of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs Award for Creative Nonfiction—poet Sarah Gorham employs her poetic prowess within the essay form. The result is a collection of essays that—much like poems—rely on cadence and image to propel the reader from one line to the next. Yet for all her syntactic and stylistically competent sentences (“Without banisters, balustrades, carpeting, doors, partitions, or skid tape to keep from slipping, we slipped”), of equal importance is the collection’s tightly woven theme. Though these essays can be enjoyed individually, when taken together, Gorham’s work reveals a wide-reaching “exploration of the many-faceted concept of perfection…”—a concept Gorham explores via various imperfections, including addiction, infection, and the incongruences of familial life. Most memorable is her essay “The Changeling,” in which Gorham dutifully confronts her experiences with her youngest sister, Beckie, who was born with microcephaly, and whose genetic abnormality forever altered the family dynamic. “Like the bound foot of a Chinese princess,” Gorham writes, “her brain was in a tiny box and could advance only so far.” Throughout the essay, Gorham recounts her family’s good-faith efforts to assist Beckie, and though they filled their home with the latest in 1960s medical technology (all of which sound suspiciously like medieval torture devices: The Creeping Box, The Helmet, The Bed Bars), there was only so much the family could do. The essay concludes as many of Gorham’s do: not with a solution, but with lingering moral questions—all of which expand outward, demanding that readers confront their own personal truths, even when the truths themselves are imperfect.
B.J. Hollars is the author of Thirteen Loops: Race, Violence and the Last Lynching in America, Opening the Doors: The Desegregation of the University of Alabama and the Fight for Civil Rights in Tuscaloosa, and a collection of stories, Sightings. His latest work, a hybrid text entitled Dispatches from the Drownings: Reporting the Fiction of Nonfiction, is forthcoming in the fall of 2014. He teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.