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30 April 2010

Review: Dead End Gene Pool by Wendy Burden

Title: Dead End Gene Pool
Author: Wendy Burden
Publisher: Gotham
Publication Date: April 1, 2010
Hardcover: 288 pages
ISBN: 978-1592405268
Genre: Memoir

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About the novel:

In the tradition of Sean Wilsey’s Oh The Glory of It All and Augusten Burrough’s Running With Scissors, the great-great-great-great granddaughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt gives readers a grand tour of the world of wealth and WASPish peculiarity, in her irreverent and darkly humorous memoir.

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.

My Review:

Dysfunctional families are not uncommon and while the stories usually will bear some similarities very few are told of the wealthiest of families, at least not before Wendy Burden's memoir Dead End Gene Pool. Burden's great-great-great-great grandfather was none other than Cornelius Vanderbilt and his eccentricities and proclivities apparently lived on throughout the generations. Wendy's father, William Armistead Moale Burden III died when she was 6 years old, changing her world, but not in the ordinary way a parent's death might change a child. Rather Wendy and her brothers traveled quite often to stay with their grandparents as dictated by their attorneys after their son's death. From the beginning it is clear to see that Wendy is starved for attention and goes to great lengths to achieve recognition, including but not limited to decapitating dolls and dissecting dolls. Her older brother was given weekly therapy sessions when their father passed, however, she was not, for which she was quite envious and I do think in desperate need of. Burden paints a life without parents, however her mother was not dead but instead, off traveling the world and the children often stayed with their grandmother, who apparently was prone to flatulence as it is mentioned quite often along with grandfather, a man who valued having numerous servants, land, and boys. While the Burden children grew up surrounded by servants as well as a governess, extravagant gifts, and extremely eccentric family members, many of which were alcoholics, and siblings, something was lacking in Wendy's life. It is a rare occurrence for me to come across a memoir I am not completely absorbed into, yet I did have difficulties feeling anything for the characters in this memoir, which to me is quite telling of Wendy's childhood. While Burden uses witty comments to keep her memoir light, it is a rather sad commentary that people with the means for help could not offer help to the ones needing it the most. Dead End Gene Pool left me feeling empty and depressed, which is quite possibly how Wendy often found herself. The memoir itself is well written yet even with a lighter tone and the added wit the reader must be cautioned the tale is not always a happy one, yet one well worth reading, especially for those who enjoy history and memoirs.

About the Author:

Wendy Burden is a confirmed New Yorker who, to her constant surprise, lives in Portland, Oregon. She is the great-great-great-great granddaughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt, which qualifies her to comment freely on the downward spiral of the blue blood families. She has worked as an illustrator, a zookeeper, and a taxidermist; and as an art director for a pornographic magazine from which she was fired for being too tasteful. She was also the owner and chef of a small French restaurant, Chez Wendy. She has yet to attend mortuary school, but is planning on it. For more information, please visit her website.

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I received a complimentary copy of Dead End Gene Pool by Wendy Burden from TLC Book Tours to be a part of this tour and offer my honest review of the novel. Receiving a complimentary copy in no way reflected my review of aforementioned novel.


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