by Wendy Burden
Penguin Group (April 1, 2010)
Source: Review Copy received from publisher as part of the Spring Reading Series hosted by Lisa at Books on the Brain.
Synopsis from the Author's Website:
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, 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.
Dead End Gene Pool was very entertaining. It was an interesting glimpse into the world of the very rich, and I especially enjoyed the perspective that author Wendy Burden was able to show of her young life in these surroundings. The explanations of the strange personalities of the author's family were outrageous. Burden has quite a talent for speaking of her family with humor, despite the overt craziness of the bunch that could have turned her into a bitter person.
This book is a perfect example of "truth is stranger than fiction." It is quite remarkable that Burden went on to be as successful as she is, and that she managed to avoid the addictions that many members of her family suffered. I also enjoyed the descriptions of the book that showed how Burden's family interacted with others outside of their family. The scene where Burden and her brother would go out to shake their butts at onlookers sailing by their grandparents' Maine mansion were hilarious. I think that it was a very funny way of coping with growing up in a bit of a fish bowl. Burden also spoke a bit about how the hired help took care of the family and how the family took care of them into old age. It was good that Wendy and her brothers had some of these people in their lives to pay attention, when their mother and grandparents were not.
There was enough history mingled into the book to make it just that much more interesting for me. I liked Dead End Gene Pool very much, and feel like I was given a bit of a peek into a world that I didn't know much about. I recommend this book to lovers of memoirs, especially memoirs where the author (fortunately) does not take themselves too seriously.
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