Dead End Gene Pool: A Memoir

Dead End Gene Pool: A Memoir

3.3 66
by Wendy Burden
     
 

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The great-great-great-great granddaughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt takes a look at the decline of her wealthy blue-blooded family in this irreverent and wickedly funny 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

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Overview

The great-great-great-great granddaughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt takes a look at the decline of her wealthy blue-blooded family in this irreverent and wickedly funny 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 Burdens had become a clan of overfunded, quirky and brainy, steadfastly chauvinistic, and ultimately doomed blue bloods on the verge of financial and moral decline-and were rarely seen not holding a drink.

When her father commits suicide when Wendy is six, she and her brother are told nothing about it and are shuffled off to school as if it were any other day. Subsequently, Wendy becomes obsessed with the macabre, modeling herself after Wednesday Addams of the Addams family, and decides she wants to be a mortician when she grows up. Just days after the funeral, her mother jets off to southern climes in search of the perfect tan, and for the next three years, Wendy and her two brothers are raised mostly by a chain-smoking Scottish nanny and the long suffering household staff at their grandparent's Fifth Avenue apartment. If you think Eloise wreaked havoc at The Plaza you should see what Wendy and her brothers do in "Burdenland"-a world where her grandfather is the president of the Museum of Modern Art; the walls are decorated with originals of Klee, Kline, Mondrian, and Miro; and Rockefellers are regular dinner guests.

The spoiled life of the uber-rich that they live with their grandparents is in dark contrast to the life they live with their mother, a brilliant Radcliffe grad and Daughter of the American Revolution, who deals with having two men's suicides on her conscience by becoming skinnier, tanner, blonder, and more steeped in bitter alcoholism with every passing year.

We watch Wendy's family unravel as she travels between Fifth Avenue, Virginia horse country, Mount Desert Island in Maine, the Jupiter Island Club, London, and boarding school, coming through all of it surprisingly intact. Rife with humor, heartbreak, family intrigue, and booze, Dead End Gene Pool offers a glimpse into the eccentric excess of old money and gives truth to the old maxim: The rich are different.

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Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
In her down-to-earth debut, the great-great-great granddaughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt offers an insider's view of growing up in an old-money family rich with dysfunction. Burden and her brothers, "for all intents and purposes" parentless, were reared under the less-than-watchful eyes of hired help and her grandparents. The author's jokes about her grandmother's digestive system aren't funny enough to merit their frequency, but it's hard not to sympathize with a narrator whose girlhood was so bereft of discipline and affection. She describes her grandmother as dependent on Percocet and Dubonnet, and both grandparents as heavy drinkers living in their own private reality. After her alcoholic, anorexic mother remarried-to Burden's late-father's best friend, an arms dealer-the unhappy family relocated to Virginia. A move to suburban England followed, where the author's "pretty much friendless" teenage years were peppered with bizarre experiences like her mother giving her birth-control pills at age 14. After her grandfather flew her to Paris on the Concorde to celebrate her 16th birthday, "things in Burdenland spiraled downward faster than you can say amphetamine psychosis," and her life was marked by her grandfather's increased drinking and her little brother's suicidal tendencies, drug addiction and conviction that he was the reincarnation of their father. The author's unwavering determination to view her memories through a humorous lens pays off in her total lack of self-pity, but she occasionally comes across as glib and perhaps unable to look too closely at the root of her family's pain. Consequently, her unique experiences are often merely entertaining instead of affecting. Engagingbut uneven. Agent: Kim Witherspoon/InkWell Management
From the Publisher
"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 blue bloods vividly to life. It's a wonderful read."
-Gus Van Sant

"An extremely funny writer"
-The New York Times

"It provides a compelling window into a life you're glad you didn't have to live, and the woman who survived it, sense of humor intact."
-Boston Globe

"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

"Burden's acknowledgment that she is focusing her memoir on her father's family (Vanderbilt heirs) because "rich people behaving badly are far more interesting than the not so rich behaving badly" reassures us at the outset that this will not be another standard-issue poor- little-rich-girl memoir. After her father's suicide when Burden was six, she spends her childhood largely ignored, shuttling between the home of her self-centered, globetrotting mother and her eccentric Park Avenue grandparents. Burden offers fascinating and voyeuristic insights into a little-known segment of society, the mega-rich American plutocracy in decline."
-Library Journal

"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."
-Booklist

"There's great tragedy and sadness that runs through the last three generations of the book's characters, and yet as I write this I find myself laughing at the memory of reading her descriptions and reactions to the world presented to her by fate (and genes). You will too."
-New York Social Diary

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781592405268
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
04/01/2010
Pages:
288
Product dimensions:
6.10(w) x 9.52(h) x 1.01(d)
Age Range:
18 - 17 Years

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From the Publisher
"Charles Addams meets Carrie Bradshaw in this honest, sardonic, and touching memoir." —-Jane Stanton Hitchcock, New York Times bestselling author of Social Crimes

Meet 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 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.

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Dead End Gene Pool 3.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 66 reviews.
AlanaWilliams More than 1 year ago
I rarely write reviews but this book was so bad that I felt like I needed to warn people. I struggled to finish Dead End Gene Pool. I have no idea how this thing got published. The first couple of chapters were okay but that was it. This writing seemed so over done and cold. I wanted something fun/light to read but this book was depressing and the writer seemed self absorbed. When I finished it I was upset at myself for putting money in this womans pocket-after reading 250 pages of her complaing how hard it was to be spoiled I realized she obviously didn't need my money.
CTavare More than 1 year ago
In spite of the okay manner in which this book is written, I found myself becoming bored very quickly because NOTHING HAPPENS! The anecdotes are slightly amusing, but it has no depth, story or Insight into any of the characters. I enjoy reading about rich people as much as the next person and I love trash, but "when I was 7, when I was 8, when I was 9, when I was 10..." can get very tiresome. I am giving it two stars and not one because I enjoyed the first chapter. After that it was a total snooze.
fitz12383 More than 1 year ago
Author Burden takes what is in reality a sad family situation full of neglect and lacking any sort of parental direction, and spins it into a funny tale reminiscent of Augusten Burroughs and David Sedaris. The cover of this book is definitely what reeled me in, and Burden hits the ground running with jokes about her flatulent grandmother and her jet-setting absentee mother. Although the book definitely has its witty moments, the jokes and the incessant effort to make a bad situation funny become tiresome after awhile. I also wonder at the accuracy of certain parts of the memoir. Nobody I know remembers this much about their childhood! I think I was hoping for more of the Vanderbilt family backstory, not just how messed up Burden's parents and grandparents were. Certain stories in the memoir that were supposed to make me chuckle simply made me cringe or shake my head. Needless to say, this one fell flat for me. If you want a truly funny memoir, check out Burroughs instead.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Disappointing - Betrayal of Author's family secrets
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I just finished this book and thought it was great. She has an excellent writing style, funny, irreverent, and interesting. This first chapter gets a little bogged down as she details her relation to the Vanderbilts but after that, really engaging and I was sorry when it ended.
kooper More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed the book although it wasn't what I expected. I did find it extremely disappointing that the pictures from the book I looked at were not available in the nook version. It makes me less and less inclined to use the nook for books.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
My mom and I purchased this book at the recommendation of a friend. There are a few humorous scenes, but overall, I couldn't stay with it. I don't think my mom finished it either. With 100 pages to go, it didn't seem to be leading anywhere.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
At live first result (involves nook s*x)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Is bored
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I can jump five feet off the ground
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See post in result six. :)
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Where sierra
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jcalovesbooks More than 1 year ago
I think this book offers such a unique and interesting perspective on distant and dysfunctional parenting. I loved the insight into the lives of this dynasty and loved her hilarious observations. I actually found myself laughing out loud.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago