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John Sedgwick's widely praised novels introduced readers to the rarified enclave of Brahmin Boston, in which privilege and elitism, handed down from one generation to the next, come at a price. He discovered for himself just how great that price can be when, while writing his second novel, he spiraled into a profound depression that threatened his life.
This crisis provoked him to search for the source of his malaise. Did it begin with him, or did it begin before, possibly even long before, with previous generations whose genes he bore? If so, how had the "family illness," as he came to think of it, shaped their lives, and come to define his? To find the answers, he launched into a full-scale investigation of his family's history—one of the oldest, and fully documented in America. It was, at once, a very personal journey of self-discovery, and a broader retracing of his family's evolution, as he pored over the many extraordinary Sedgwicks who had gone before—from the protean early Speaker of the House Theodore Sedgwick through to Edie Sedgwick, Andy Warhol's muse and the 1960s "It Girl." Both a brimming family saga and a courageous narrative, the book paints a startlingly candid portrait of a man and an eminent American family.
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John Sedgwick is the author of the novels The Dark House and The Education of Mrs. Bemis, and contributes regularly to Newsweek, GQ, and The Atlantic, among other publications. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.From Publishers Weekly:
In this overwritten family biography–cum–memoir, novelist Sedgwick (The Education of Mrs. Bemis) traces in great detail multiples generations of his wealthy yet ill-starred family. Beginning with his own near suicide, Sedgwick takes the unrelenting trials and tribulations of his family and tries to tie them to some parallel history of the U.S. It doesn't work. Reaching back to the late 18th century, the family Sedgwick was in the upper tier of New England society. In Sedgwick's telling, Theodore Sedgwick, a prosperous attorney, set the family off to its posh but difficult history by swindling an old Native American woman out of her property in western Massachusetts. Building a grand country home—a home that would become both family redoubt and scene of some intergenerational depravities—Theodore suffered from what would now be diagnosed as depression. In fact, depression and madness dog the coming generations most famously in the incarnation of Edie Sedgwick, Warhol superstar, world-class drug addict and celebrity suicide. This memoir is not without its pleasures. Sedgwick has a keen eye for detail and a voracious appetite for family lore and history (Catherine Maria Sedgwick was a popular mid-18th-century author; Kyra Sedgwick is an actress). The finely honed prose glides along effortlessly; it just doesn't add up to much. (Jan.)
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