Friday, June 18, 2010

Dead End Gene Pool by Wendy Burden

Dead End Gene Pool by Wendy Burden
288 pages
Published April 2010 by Penguin Group
Source: the publisher for the Spring Reading Series at Books On The Brain

Wendy Burden is the great- great- great- granddaughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt. The Vanderbilt family was one of the wealthiest family in America for generations but by the time Wendy was born the fortunes of the various family branches were starting to dwindle and the gene pool was definitely getting shallow. Wendy's father was the Vanderbilt and when he committed suicide, his parents cut Wendy's mother off financially. She still managed to find enough money to keep herself in vacations, fancy clothes, and booze but she had almost no interest in parenting her three children. Wendy's grandparents insisted on having the children visit often and they certainly spoiled the children. But they weren't much better at paying attention to them. In fact Wendy says she felt much more as if the servants were her family.

What makes this book different from the other tales of poor little rich kids you've read? Burden's biting sense of humor and tough chick attitude. When she was young, she fancied herself to be Wednesday Addams, had an obsession with the macabre, and was something of a hellion. She frequently thought of ways to kill her brother (in the duck press for example); once, along with her brother took every bit of food out of the kitchen of one of her grandparents' homes to teach her grandfather and the chef a lesson; and, one summer, kept a collection of dead birds in various stages of decomposition.

Burden takes shots at everyone in her family and on the staff, but seems to take particular pleasure in going after her mother (who, frankly, seems to deserve everything she gets) who spends most of Burden's childhood telling her how fat she is and all of her own adult life in a drunken stupor.

I laughed out loud frequently and read bits of the book often to my husband (apparently it helps if you are actually reading the book to find it funny). I started to wonder if I might be a mean person to think it was so funny to make fun of a family that is so clearly screwed up. Seriously, if my kids made fun of people in the same way, I would scold them.

As the book progressed, the suicidal tendencies and the effects of the family's alcoholism started to take their toll and the humor did start to seem mean to me. It was a little painful to watch Burden grow up without any real emotional attachment to anyone in her family. The pacing of the book felt a bit uneven to me, slowing as the book went on, and the stories lost much of their bite.

Do not go into the book expecting to learn about the history of the Vanderbilt family; other than the initial run down of how the family descended down to Wendy, there is very little here to connect Burden to the Vanderbilt name.


  1. Oh .. I didn't realize this book was connected to the Vanderbilt name. I have to try this one - not sure how I would like the humor but it is worth a try.

  2. This book certainly sounds interesting, even though I'm picky about memoirs.


  3. Hmm your review made the book a lot more interesting than the blurb on the back of the book.

  4. Oh, I didn't like this book a whole lot. It seemed very sad to me that her whole family sort of ignored her and let her go on about her way, doing weird things and being alienated. And her mother just horrified me. I sort of wondered if this book was her attempt at biting back at the people who neglected her for so long.

  5. I ended up passing on this one. I could not get into it sadly.

    Lisa your blog looks great. Love your header too!

  6. Hi there. Just hopping by from crazy 4 books hop!
    I'd love to have you stop by my new-ish book review blog!

  7. Sometimes it is o.k. to laugh at people...especially within the confines of your home!! Not sure if this is one that I would pick up but I enjoyed your take on it!

  8. Great review - like the sound of the 'tough chick attitude'.

    I've begun following your blog through the Blogger Hop. Given your blog a shout out at my Blog Hop post here: