Douglas's ruthlessly candid history of his parents is a significant sociological study as well as a wrenching memoir of great poignancy, for Archibald and Eleanor Douglas were members of the highest stratum of American society, made up of people who had inherited money and who viewed themselves as the nation's aristocrats. They felt no need to accomplish anything to prove themselves because they had been given high status by birth. Archie was a handsome, charming, intelligent bon vivant whom a psychiatrist also found to be shrewd and aggressive; although a poor student, he became a stockbroker through contacts he made at Yale and also served five terms in the New York State Assembly. Eleanor was beautiful enough to be a model, a vivacious and charming debutante when the two were married in 1940. Leaving their children to the care of nannies and other servants, the two devoted their lives to parties, to liquor and to pills--two vacuous individuals filling up their time. Eleanor killed herself in 1953. Archie presumably died in late 1962. His son, who is now a freelance writer, visited his drunken, maudlin father that Christmas at his Tuxedo Park, N.Y., mansion. Two days later, he went into the hospital with stomach pains. I never saw him again. A friend summed up the lives of this couple aptly: They could have been anything. It was such a waste. Photos. (Oct.)
``At a little after two in the afternoon on the last Saturday of September 1953, two days before the start of my fourth-grade year, . . . I took the paper to my mother's room and found her dead.'' Douglas would be 16 years old before he learned that his mother killed herself and over 40 before he discovered ``all the miseries that drove her to it.'' In this moving, eloquent memoir cum social history, Douglas combines his childhood memories with the recollections of family and friends to tell the story of his parents' 13-year marriage, ``a marriage endowed--then corrupted--by rank and privilege.'' When Archibald Douglas, a stockbroker and son of an heiress, married Ellie Reed, a socialite debutante, in 1940, they were a couple who had it all--money, beauty, and, most importantly, a ``good name'' and social status. But the good times of the early years quickly dissolved into alcoholism, adultery, abuse, and Ellie's nervous breakdowns and eventual suicide. Like Susan Braudy's This Crazy Thing Called Love ( LJ 9/1/92), Douglas reveals the painful emptiness and waste of lives that adhere to false ``family values.'' Highly recommended.-- Wilda Williams, ``Library Journal'' *
The Douglases seemingly had it all--good breeding (and a long line of honorable, charitable forbearers), old money (and lots of it), and opportunities galore (though often bought and paid for). But by the late 1900s, the American "aristocracy" had stumbled, fallen, and broken into pieces--pieces picked up and reassembled into racism, cruelty, and elitism by the author's father, and into boredom and mental illness by his mother. In this scathingly honest, upper-class "Roots", Douglas employs interviews with relatives and friends, letters, and diaries to ferret out answers to questions that have plagued him a lifetime: why his father died an alcoholic failure and his mother committed suicide. What makes this more than a "poor little rich kid" tale is Douglas' ability to look unflinchingly at his family and to report honestly what he sees, however painful. Filled with wisdom, forgiveness, and eventual understanding, this introspective memoir provides a wistful, tragic look at the disintegration of an era and a family.