Life in Art Series
Poet and essayist Peter Stitt describes not a perfect life achieved, but his search for that ideal, writing of books he has loved and of the often difficult lives of writers, including his teachers John Berryman and James Wright. Generous and alert in his fascinations, Stitt explores the quest for freedom in thought and action among the Amish, the French partisans, and the “heretical” Cathars, and he offers a fresh perspective on parenting, meditating on the life of an adopted stepdaughter.
“The Perfect Life is no miscellany. Its very personal narrator is a wanderer in time as well as place—from the mysteries of childhood to the failures of an adult; from the American Midwest and Gettysburg to enclaves in Sonoran Mexico and the region of the Languedoc. All the pieces here are of a piece. Along the way there are poignant portraits of some of our most significant poets and precise meditations on examples of war. What connects the disparate parts of Stitt’s journey is a lyric intelligence unafraid of self-analysis, in stories that do not turn away and in prose that does not yield” — Stanley Plumly
“This deviously serious stealth memoir cum literary whodunit is light as a feather” — Suzannah Lessard
from “Alejandro y los Condominios Pilar”
I went to the place in Mexico, the place in Sonora, the place on the Sea of Cortez—to San Carlos and the Condominios Pilar—to work and to be alone; to be alone and to get started on a book; to rebuild my mental and physical health and to be alone; to be alone and away from the hassles, the telephones, the obligations, the deadlines of everyday life. I cooked my own food and washed my own dishes and swept my own floor and laundered my own clothes (in the kitchen sink) and got myself into bed early and out of bed early, and I worked hard all the time, unless I was busy doing something else, and then I did that hard as well, and I was entirely cool with all this because I was happy to be in Paradise and living the perfect life—and wasn’t it about time, for the sake of Martha and Mary and Joseph and Little Baby Jesus, so help me God—and one of the other things I did was hang with Alejandro some.…
In his quest for the perfect life, Stitt takes us across the bridge of his own depression, through losses, disappointments, and connections between his life and the lives of the poets with whom he has a physical and supernal (a Poe term) relationship. It becomes a tunnel where we hear the echo of the musicality of Poe, feel the wind of Wright’s words, and hear the screams of a terrified child who scratches us then reaches for our hand.
— Kai White, Foreword Reviews
In his first essay collection, Gettysburg College poet and professor of English Stitt, founding and current editor of the Gettysburg Review, rakes over his life in these exercises of genre indirection and faction (fiction + fact). Stitt (The World’s Hieroglyphic Beauty) returns to his old stomping grounds of Poe, Wright, Austen, and Frost, dissecting their actions as well as their prose and sex lives. Deep satisfaction comes from watching Stitt pull Poe apart ligament by ligament, testifying to Poe’s arrogance, but proving that the poet was a victim, instead of the typical ‘libertine.’ With the death lurking in each essay, Stitt’s writings do not examine the perfect life but its inverse, through murky lenses of disappointment, divorce, suicide, and cancer. Rife with engaging moments of self-reflection, and occasional unsophisticated interjections that creep into otherwise objective narratives, Stitt’s prose can be disappointingly thin on the sentence-level, despite the overall formal strength and truth of each essay.
— Publishers Weekly