Lisa Schwarzbaum
December 06, 1996 AT 05:00 AM EST

The Architect of Desire

type
Book
Current Status
In Season
author
Suzannah Lessard
publisher
Dial Press
genre
Biography, Nonfiction

We gave it an A

In The Architect of Desire, Suzannah Lessard, the great-granddaughter of 19th-century architect Stanford White and a former staff writer at The New Yorker, tells the history of her famous (and infamous) ancestor, who was murdered by the husband of one of his countless sexual conquests in 1906. But she goes much deeper, too: In this inventive hybrid format — part social history, part intergenerational chronicle, part personal memoir — she ties together the truth of her family’s strong and strange history (a strangeness scarcely spoken about among clan members) by pulling on threads of aesthetic sensitivity and sexual perversity that weave from generation to generation. Lessard writes beautifully, compassionately, with the soft precision of a poet, but her story is a harsh one, and she doesn’t shield herself from difficult scrutiny, either. The revelation that she and her sisters suffered sexual abuse from their father is shared late among them, and she reports the toll it has taken with moving sadness. A

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