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In a sparklingly mischievous debut, Aldrich peers into the intimate collapse of a once great Hudson River house-the "funny farm" of her Astor/Livingston/Chanler relatives. Spiraling way down from a long line of enterprising early Americans, financiers, socialites, and artists with illustriously entangled names, author Aldrich, whose great-grandfather was the famous music critic Richard Aldrich, reconstructs her early years growing up at the ancestral homestead of Rokeby, a 43-room mansion with numerous outlying towers and barns located on 450 acres somewhere along the Hudson River between New York City and Albany (though she never says where exactly, it is in Barryown, N.Y.). The fierce guardians of the house's aristocratic legacy, exemplified by great-grandmother Margaret Chanler, who banished relatives who had divorced or converted to Catholicism, had passed by the 1980s when Aldrich was growing up at Rokeby to a generation of impoverished, disorderly parasites, alcoholics, and madmen. Her own father, called Teddy, a Harvard-educated handyman, seemed to delight in his "deliberate defiance" of his familial responsibility and refused to make a living, preferring to ride around on the backhoe, while her Polish-born peasant artist mother, Ala, was frequently depressed and resistant to any involvement in her only daughter's school or life. Thus the young girl longed for order and stability and even a square meal, which she found occasionally at her Grandma Claire's quarters, when the old matriarch wasn't "sucking on the bottle." Aldrich's narrative tidily and fondly bears witness to the inexorable unraveling of a storied genealogy. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.
Aldrich bears witness to the tail-end of the disintegration of that most storied of American dynasties, the Astors. Growing up at Rokeby, the crumbling, 43-room family mansion on the Hudson River, she had ample opportunity to observe and participate in the eccentricities of her once mighty clan. Interweaving recollections from her dysfunctional childhood and tales of glories past, she accurately captures and communicates the madness and malaise that have infected many members of the last few generations of Astors, including her own father. Refusing to move on and clinging to a decaying ancestral estate that could very well save them all, they live a hand-to-mouth existence, buoyed only by their obsession with their heritage and a misplaced sense of entitlement. This unflinching memoir of childhood chaos and neglect is relieved and enlivened by Aldrich's wittily sharp observations and her obvious affection for her peculiar relations.--Flanagan, Margaret Copyright 2010 Booklist