Be omnivorous, don't just read one kind of book, read everything. - Richard Wagamese

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Review: Dead End Gene Pool by Wendy Burden

Publisher: Gotham Books 
Pages: 279 
Source: Publisher 

'Don't judge a person by their relatives.' 

'You can choose your friends, not your family.' 

Wendy Burden is the great-great-great granddaughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt. She was born into a wealthy, powerful, and highly dysfunctional family. The heart of the book is about children growing up among the morally declined. Children were neglected, and raised by the hired hands. A privileged life is not always a life to covet. When Wendy was six years old her father committed suicide. She remembers the night he died, and the lack of communication within the household. Wendy's father was more of an acquaintance. A man who came and went as he pleased. It's was hard to grieve for a father and man she hardly knew. Wendy was told her father had died, but no further explanations were given. Wendy Burden was a highly inquisitive child, left to alone she began sifting through a box in her attic where she came across a newspaper clipping that disclosed her father's cause of death. She was shocked but uneffected, Wendy continued on with her day. Shortly after her mother, excluded from her husband's will, leaves her children and travels the world in search of the perfect tan. Wendy and her two brothers were mandated to monthly visits to Burdenland, their grandparents estate. Boarding an airplane without any adults was typical and frequent. The general rule in the world of bluebloods, the male gender is superior, a potential heir to the fortune. The preferential treatment of her brothers was never closeted, and never expected to be closeted. Wendy, a child starved for attention coped by taking on the persona of Wednesday Adams. A child fascinated with all things morbid. Her Easy Bake Oven became her crematorium, a guillotine was built and many death plots planned while running around Burdenland. Her grandparents attempted to provide her brothers with the best education. They were sent to the 'creme de la creme' boarding schools, while she was overlooked and sent to local schools. This is a story of a dwindling family. The children may have had extravagant gifts, and lovely vacations but they were largely neglected. Burden's family had many secrets, emotional hardships, suicide and addiction became the norm. 

I loved this memoir. Wendy writes a brutally honest, dark and witty memoir. A memoir about the social elite, the bluebloods of New York. The dysfunctional family was heart wrenching and despicable but the writing was very witty. I couldn't believe the neglect. I thought the book flowed very well, and I was immediately drawn into the story. Although this is a story about childhood neglect, the writing is very funny. Burden recalls minuscule details of her childhood and I loved the Wednesday Adams anecdotes. I couldn't help but laugh. I highly recommend this one. A great twisted, entertaining coming of age story.


  1. I didn't love this as much as most people did. I felt like parts of it (especially when she wrote about her grandparents) was mean-spirited. I'm glad you enjoyed it so much!

  2. I remember this one - it reminded me of the Vanderbilts legacy all over again. Gloria was famous for her style and it seems Wendy got it right with her book. Great review Mrs Q.

  3. Never heard of these people before but this sounds very fascinating. Have to go to put this on my wishlist!