Dead End Gene Pool by Wendy Burden
Publication date/ Length: 2010 / 279 pages
Synopsis (from the jacket cover): For generations the Burdens were one of the wealthiest families in New York, thanks to the inherited fortune of Cornelius “The Commodore” Vanderbilt. By 1955, the year of Wendy’s birth, the Burdens had become a clan of overfunded, quirky and brainy, steadily chauvinistic, and ultimately doomed bluebloods on the verge of financial and moral decline — and were rarely seen not holding a drink.
First line: “It’s a testament ot his libido, if not his character, that Cornelius Vanderbilt died of syphilis instead of apoplexy.”
Review: I tend to enjoy memoir as a genre and am fascinated by how people choose to live their lives, so when TLC Tours contacted me to read this memoir of one of the Vanderbilts’ ancestors, I thought, “Why not?” I very rarely read memoirs of famous people and thought this might be a nice change. Based on evidence that surrounds us, people who are born with extreme privilege seem to have a generally tougher time finding lasting happiness, and the Vanderbilts seem to be no exception.
The author has a very distinct voice and outlook on life. She records her childhood experiences with palpable scorn and distaste and presents them, warts and all, as peculiar characters who give her everything her heart desired – except for what her heart desired… unconditional love. Burden’s voice is unique and authentic and her cutting humor truly brings a sense of credibility to individuals who seem incredible.
In fact, Burden’s voice is so singular, I believe most readers could open a random page, read a few passages, and be able to predict whether or not they would enjoy her memoir. So, here are two passages for your consideration. First a description of one of her grandparents’ properities:
“A decade before I was born, my grandparents built a house on Mount Desert Island in Maine. They positioned it on the pink granite rocks at the entrance to Northeast Harbor, making it a beacon to anyone who was traveling by in a boat; and in Maine in the summer that means everyone. Even if you looked the other way, you couldn’t miss it; the sun bounced off the Belgian hand-rolled picture windows like a paparazzi flash off a Harry Winston sparkler. Natives, tourists, and summer residents gawked as they passed by, and commented freely on the design, the artistic delusion, and the obvious moral depravity of both architect and owner.”
And a bit of dialogue describing young Wendy’s attempt to scare away one of her mother’s suitors:
“Wanna see my hamster? Or my guillotine? How about the two of them together? I bet you didn’t know we have a dog that’s trained to kill people.”
So while I did not particularly enjoy this story of excess and deprivation, I think others might. Interested? Drop me a comment and I’ll choose a winner by Saturday!
Wendy Burden’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS:
Monday, April 19th: Life in Pink
Tuesday, April 20th: Bibliophile by the Sea
Wednesday, April 21st: A Sea of Books
Thursday, April 22nd: Simply Stacie
Friday, April 23rd: A Bookshelf Monstrosity
Monday, April 26th: Luxury Reading
Wednesday, April 28th: Book’N Around
Thursday, April 29th: Chaotic Compendiums
Friday, April 30th: Rundpinne
Monday, May 3rd: One Person’s Journey Through a World of Books
Wednesday, May 5th: Book Club Classics!
Friday, May 7th: The Brain Lair
Monday, May 10th: The Serpentine Library
Tuesday, May 11th: Books Are Like Candy Corn
Monday, May 17th: Sophisticated Dorkiness
Tuesday, May 18th: Starting Fresh
Tuesday, May 18th: Books on the Brain: Reading Series Discussion