Perfectly Miserable

Perfectly Miserable

Guilt, God and Real Estate in a Small Town

Additional Formats
  • Hardcover
  • ISBN 9781594631818
  • 320 Pages
  • Riverhead Books
  • Adult


A wryly comic memoir that examines the pillars of New England WASP culture—class, history, family, money, envy, perfection, and, of course, real estate—through the lens of mothers and daughters.

At eighteen, Sarah Payne Stuart fled her mother and all the other disapproving mothers of her too perfect hometown of Concord, Massachusetts, only to return years later when she had children of her own. Whether to defy the previous generation or finally earn their approval and enter their ranks, she hurled herself into upper-crust domesticity full throttle. In the twenty years Stuart spent back in her hometown—in a series of ever more magnificent houses in ever grander neighborhoods—she was
forced to connect with the cultural tradition of guilt and flawed parenting of a long legacy of local, literary women from Emerson’s wife, to Hawthorne’s, to the most famous and imposing of them all, Louisa May Alcott’s iconic, guilt-tripping Marmee.

When Stuart’s own mother dies, she realizes that there is no one left to approve or disapprove. And so, with her suddenly grown children fleeing as she herself once did, Stuart leaves her hometown for the final time, bidding good-bye to the cozy ideals invented for her by Louisa May Alcott so many years ago, which may or may not ever have been based in reality.



“The book is a love letter to the author’s family, her fellow ‘old-moneyed Yankees’ and even to herself. . . . It’s on contemporary Concord that Stuart is at her best. . . . The real action in the book is the deployment of Stuart’s fantastic knowledge of this subculture for comic delight.”—The New York Times Book Review

“For all WASP’s—or anyone who likes to laugh at them. Perfectly hilarious.”—Town and Country

“Witty, acerbic . . . hilariously sarcastic.”—Wall Street Journal

“Stuart learns, as most of us do, that one can never return to the past or make it anew…attempts to reshape the past do, however, demonstrate the tonic value of humor.”—Minneapolis Star-Tribune

“A prodigal WASP daughter returns to her New England roots in Sarah Payne Stuart’s Perfectly Miserable: Guilt, God and Real Estate in a Small Town, filled with laughs as long and wince-inducing as a snowbound Concord winter.”—

“Stuart writes honestly and lovingly about her aging parents, her childhood, money, the trials of parenthood and keeping her marriage afloat. In other words, everything. Perfectly Miserable is a gorgeously rendered portrait of modern life—and a reminder that some things never change.”—BookPage

“As an exiled New Englander still obsessed with Thoreau’s weird little life, I devoured Stuart’s memoir of returning to her hometown of Concord, Massachusetts, a place still laden with the ghosts of childhood past: from her family, to the Transcendentalists, there’s a lot of weight there, and Stuart writes it all out in funny, wry prose.”—Flavorwire

“A writer’s wickedly droll account of how she came to terms with her WASP heritage and the impossible expectations of ‘mother’ New England. . . . In this wry memoir, the author explores her relationship with her hometown and with a whole host of Concord notables, from Ralph Waldo Emerson and Nathanial Hawthorne to Louisa May Alcott, whose fictional mother Marmee—and the perpetually miserable Alcott matriarch on whom she was based—represents everything good and bad about New England culture. . . . Satire at its finest.”—Kirkus (starred view)

“This is a true story wonderfully told, infused with place and history, with wit and warmth toward all those it satirizes. To call it funny seems inadequate. There is a depth of understanding in its humor; it is funniest when it deals in sadness. I can’t remember the last time I read a book I liked as much.”—Tracy Kidder, Pulizer Prize and National Book Award winning author of Home Town and House

“A warmly wise and elegantly funny memoir for all of us tormented by class, money, the mis-remembrance of things past, and real estate.  This book is for anyone who has ever felt guilty, lived in a house, or had parents.  If you don’t love Perfectly Miserable, text me for your money back.”—Patricia Marx, author of Him Her Him Again The End of Him

Perfectly Miserable is an acidic, hilarious, and monumentally self-deprecating account of its author’s doomed love affair with the world’s quaintest town.”—Boston Magazine 




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