Published by Gotham Books on April 1, 2010
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 Burden's had become a clan of overfunded, quirky and brainy, steadfastly chauvinistic, and ultimately doomed bluebloods on the verge of financial and moral decline-and were rarely seen not holding a drink. In Dead End Gene Pool, Wendy invites readers to meet her tragically flawed family, including an uncle with a fondness for Hitler, a grandfather who believes you can never have enough household staff, and a remarkably flatulent grandmother.
At the heart of the story is Wendy's glamorous and aloof mother who, after her husband's suicide, travels the world in search of the perfect sea and ski tan, leaving her three children in the care of a chain- smoking Scottish nanny, Fifth Avenue grandparents, and an assorted cast of long-suffering household servants (who Wendy and her brothers love to terrorize). Rife with humor, heartbreak, family intrigue, and booze, Dead End Gene Pool offers a glimpse into the fascinating world of old money and gives truth to an old maxim: The rich are different.
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I started Dead End Gene Pool, a book about the once illustrious Vanderbilt family. I picked it up mainly because I love reading about New York and the author’s family had home a home in New York City and a country estate in my own home town of Mount Kisco (among other residences in Florida, Massachusetts, Virginia, Paris and elsewhere).
I was surprised to find that this book was ultimately about Wendy’s (the great- great- great- granddaughter or Cornelius “the Commodore” Vanderbilt) experiences growing up in the shadow of the dysfunction and wealth of the Vanderbilts. After the death of their father, Wendy and her brothers were pretty much left to be raised by their grandparents; which really meant that they were largely raised by the household staff. Their mother spent most of her time traveling, looking for the perfect tan, and only making sporadic appearances in their lives.
What I found to be the best part of the book was Wendy’s writing. She writes with humor and puts her experiences into episodes that when grouped together reveal the bigger picture or the specific point she was trying to make about her family. I found myself laughing out loud several times, as well as going to back to reread to make sure that what I read was really what was written on the page. It often felt like Wendy was having a conversation with me over tea and cookies, rather than me actually reading a book.
If Wendy decides to write additional books about her family, there are several unanswered questions, I would love the answers to, I would read those too. I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys reading memoirs or about the lives of famous American families.
This book was a review copy provided by TLC Tours: http://tlcbooktours.com/