From Publishers Weekly
A great-great-grandson and heir of John Jacob Astor, John Armstrong "Archie" Chanler was born with the proverbial platinum spoon in his mouth but was no stranger to misfortune. His mother died in 1875 when he was just 13, and his father's demise two years later made Archie the de facto head of the family of 10 orphans. An eccentric who, Lucey concludes, probably suffered from bipolar disorder, Archie married the mesmerizing Amélie Rives, goddaughter of Gen. Robert E. Lee and a Virginia novelist whose scandalous heroines made her a literary sensation. Amélie was a master manipulator and morphine addict who refused her besotted husband sex and affection while spending his inheritance to refurbish her family plantation. The couple's divorce after seven years was fodder for the media as were Archie's commitment to a mental institution by siblings alarmed by his free-spending ways, his escape four years later and his lawsuits to prove his sanity and reclaim his fortune. Writer and photo editor Lucey ably chronicles the pomp and excesses of the Gilded Age, but her book bogs down in exhaustively researched details about a parade of glittering Astors and their retinue. 16 pages of b&w photos not seen by PW
. (June 27)
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*Starred Review* Amelie Rives' racy first novel, The Quick or the Dead,
was published in 1888, making her the toast of two continents. In the same year she married John Jacob Astor's spectacularly wealthy but eccentric great-grandson John Armstrong "Archie" Chanler. The marriage was troubled from the start--in fact, it may never have been consummated. Both parties were highly strung, Amelie was addicted to morphine, and Archie didn't like finding himself in the shadow of his brilliant and beautiful wife (nor would he be pleased to find himself just a footnote in today's standard sources on American writers and American women). But even after their headline-making divorce and Amelie's remarriage to an impoverished Russian prince, he continued to throw money her way. Archie's many siblings viewed this as one symptom of insanity and had him committed to an asylum--from which he managed to escape four years later. This is really Archie's book, and he is portrayed with a measure of sympathy, while Amelie comes across as being selfish and manipulative. Lucey's highly readable and substantially documented chronicle is part Victorian melodrama, part Edith Wharton, and part Tennessee Williams. Add this to the nonfiction-that-reads-like-a-novel shelf. Mary Ellen QuinnCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved