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Dead End Gene Pool: A Memoir Hardcover – April 1, 2010
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Burden offers up her version of growing up Vanderbilt in this amusing, often-heartbreaking, poor-little-rich-girl tale. As the great-great-great granddaughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt, Burden experienced a childhood populated by a cast of suitably wacky WASPs, whose personal and professional ambitions had progressively declined over the course of several overindulged and dangerously inbred generations. Born in 1955, she and her brothers spent their kaleidoscopic childhood raised by rich, eccentric grandparents, Gaga and Popsie, and an extensive surrogate family of servants, while their jet-setting mother—strangely liberated by their father’s suicide—galloped around the globe, gin in hand, desperately seeking her next husband and the perfect tan. This blueblood tale is spun so deftly and so charmingly that it is easy to forget that this it is essentially a sad story of family neglect and degeneration. Burden joins the ranks of such memoirists as Augusten Burroughs and David Sedaris, who have successfully mined their dysfunctional childhoods for comedic gold. --Margaret Flanagan
"In this dark and humorous memoir Wendy Burden takes us inside the family circus that was her side of the Vanderbilt dynasty, bringing American class structure, sibling rivalry and the decline of the bluebloods vividly to life. It is a wonderful read."
-Gus Van Sant
"Charles Addams meets Carrie Bradshaw in this honest, sardonic, and touching memoir. Burden's tale makes for riveting and often hilarious reading."
-Jane Stanton Hitchcock, New York Times bestselling author of Social Crimes and Mortal Friends
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For most of us, the lifestyles of the obscenely rich are a complete mystery. Building multiple homes with 20+ rooms each, flying everywhere on the Concorde, having staff to do everything for you including but not limited to wiping your rear end!
Wendy Burden's family is a branch of the Vanderbilts—she is the great-great-great-great granddaughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt. The good part is that her branch has for several generations married “out” of the family—no cousins marrying like her ancestors. The bad part is that the family is full of alcoholics and suicides, bizarre behavior and overbred, overfunded, overeducated people who have no goals or ambition or ability to take care of themselves.
The Vanderbilt family is somewhat misogynistic—sons are everything, daughters are not valued at all. And of course it's the sons who are prone to suicide or stupid fatal accidents. Wendy's father kills himself and her mother is now free to pursue the sun and a social life. She leaves the kids to be brought up by the grandparents, periodically taking them back to keep them in squalor. Well, “squalor” compared to their previous accommodations. They have to do chores, OMG!! Neither parent seemed to have any maternal/paternal instincts. The grandparents are fabulous caretakers in comparison, but the job is mostly done by a huge staff of nannies, chefs, butlers, maids, etc. The grandparents treat their granddaughter with a cheerful sort of neglect, being not really interested in her because she's not the HEIR. While she asks for a pony for every birthday and Christmas, one is given to her brother, because HEIR.
Somehow Wendy seemed to grow up relatively normal, she tries to have relationships with her family members in spite of their strange behavior and lack of affection towards her. While the book stops before this happens, she appears to have ended up happily married with children.
It's Wendy's voice, and her self deprecating humor that MAKES this book. It was fascinating and completely engrossing. I felt like I liked her, and wanted to be her friend. Recommend to anyone who likes to read about messed up families, or the “uber-rich”, or simply anyone looking for a good read!
My mother is very proud of her family bible that can trace her family back to John Adams (the second president of the U.S.) and to the Mayflower, and to the Greco-Roman gods I'm sure (at least in her head). So, I grew up with a feeling of superiority knowing I came from somewhere, and my ancestors had streets (one in Manhattan) named after them, and featured prominently at several key times in U.S. history.
My earliest memory is also the thump my grandmother's head made when it hit the bathroom floor when she took a bottle of pills and chased it with rubbing alcohol, and was brain dead until the machine was turned off. My next earliest memory is a family uncle's tinkering of ice cubes in the drink he always carried around with him (before and after rehab even in his office as president of his bank). So, perhaps I could relate a bit to Wendy, and her hilariously dysfunctional family (I spent summers being shifted between houses with names, and until I went off to college I thought everyone's house had a name, and it's not something others find amusing).
However, I think this book should be read for pure entertainment value by anyone with a sense of humor. You don't have to be able to relate to find it absolutely brilliantly written (and edited), and laugh out loud to Wendy and her family.
Her wit and humor will be appreciated by everyone. I know the people I have shared the book with all thought it was as amazing as me, and not all of them came from similar backgrounds.
Many times I've thought that my brother and I should end our line with us, and if we ever do decide to start families of our own that adoption is probably better than handing down the genes we've got creeping inside us. Luckily I don't think I have to worry about ever having the energy to breed a brood of my own, and have hit the age where instead of thinking Grey Gardens is weird I think more "Hm...yeah, I can see how that could happen."
Anyway READ THIS BOOK and laugh at poor Wendy's family. Wendy, if you read reviews of your book kudos to you for writing such a fantastic memoir and for being brave enough to have children, and being a good mother to them!
I wish you would write more, and more, and more, because I would keep buying and buying and buying.