This is the book for you if you’ve ever been jealous of someone born with a golden spoon in his or her mouth. Dead End Gene Pool: A Memoir by Wendy Burden will cure you of that jealousy and have you thanking God that you are living a normal (if there is such a thing) life. Burden is the great great great great granddaughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt and has written a disturbing but mesmerizing account of what it was like to grow up as a Vanderbilt.
Burden starts her story with a short history of her family and then brings the reader up to date with the Vanderbilt heirs. Her dark and quirky prose exhibits a strong writing talent but does not disguise the pain and insecurities she experienced as a child. This is the type of story that may occasionally repel or disgust you but is impossible to put down.
Whether she is talking about her emotionally unavailable mother, her relationship with her brother or her visits to her cold and distant grandparents, one comes away with a lot of sympathy. The family dynamics were odd and anything but normal.
Obviously, this family had wealth beyond measure but not always the good sense to spend it reasonably or use their riches to help others. Descriptions of over the top dinner parties and weekends, closets full of haute couture clothes, and just too much conspicuous consumption tempers the sympathy vote. But Burden’s talent and often poetic prose will keep you moving forward, hoping against hope that some sense of normalcy will descend on this fortunate but very troubled family.