Black Sheep and Kissing Cousins
How Our Family Stories Shape Us
When someone says, at a holiday dinner table, “Oh, those Lawrence cousins lose control all the time,” or the Davises always had more talent than luck,” you can be sure there’s a lesson being passed along, from one generation to another. Who tells stories to whom and about what is never a random matter.
Our family stories have a secret power: they play a unique role in shaping our identity and our sense of our place in the world. They give us values, inspirations, warnings, and incentives. We need them. We use them. We keep them. They reverberate throughout our lives, affecting our choices in love, work, friendship, and lifestyle.
Elizabeth Stone, whose grandparents came from Italy to Brooklyn, artfully weaves her own family stories among the stories of more than a hundred people of all backgrounds, ages, and regions—clarifying for us predictable types of family legends, providing ways to interpret our own stories and their roles in our lives. She examines stories of birth, death, work, money, and romantic adventure—all in the context of the family storytelling ritual. And she shows how stories about our most ancient ancestors may provide answers at milestone moments in our lives, as well as how stories about our newest family members carve out places for them so that they will fit into their families, comfortably or otherwise.
Upon its initial publication in 1988, Studs Terkel said that the book is “A wholly original approach to an ancient theme: family storytelling and its lasting mark on the individual.” Judy Collins noted that “Elizabeth Stone’s marvelous book on family myths and fables is irresistible. It lets us in on our own secrets in a provocative and exciting way.” And Maggie Scarf wrote, “What a clever topic, and how beautifully Elizabeth Stone has written about it! I recommend Black Sheep and Kissing Cousins for everyone who has ever been raised in a family.”
“This sparkling book is a gift to families and all who work with them. Readers will be inspired to search their own intergenerational family myths and narratives, coming away with a clearer sense of self and enhanced sympathy for family members.”
—Evan Imber-Black, author of The Secret Life of Families and director, Center for Families and Health, Ackerman Institute for the Family
“This book is a continuing inspiration to those of us who are professional storytellers. The wisdom in the stories, along with Elizabeth Stone’s suggestions, are a valuable guide to all of us.”
—Peninnah Schram, associate professor of speech and drama, Stern College, Yeshiva University and author, Jewish Stories One Generation Tells Another
“Reading this book again, I am reminded of how important it is to our understanding of family enterprises. Families who own assets together will find the family stories regarding money, self worth, and freedom nothing short of enlightening.”
—Fredda Herz Brown, managing partner, The Metropolitan Group and editor of Reweaving the Family Tapestry
“[C]harming and appealing because of Stone’s delicate sensitivity, her wonder over the way an entire family ethos can be created out of stories ‘as invisible as air, as weightless as dreams.’”
—Alex Raskin, Los AngelesTimes
“One of the marks of a book’s private success for me is its ability to distract me from itself. I enjoy reading material that provokes daydream, pushing me outward from a statement to explore my own experience as it supports or denies what I’ve just read. . . . Black Sheep and Kissing Cousins encourages just this kind of desultory and reflexive reading.”
—Nancy Mairs, Women’s Review of Books
“Elizabeth Stone describes how the stories families tell assign roles to each person, and how those roles can become self-fulfilling prophecies.”
—Harriet Brown, The New York Times