The Astor Orphan: A Memoir

Alexandra Aldrich, Author
Alexandra Aldrich. Ecco, $24.99 (250p) ISBN 978-0-06-220793-7
Reviewed on: 12/24/2012
Release date: 11/01/1996
Downloadable Audio - 978-0-06-229273-5
Paperback - 259 pages - 978-0-06-220795-1
Ebook - 272 pages - 978-0-06-220796-8
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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.)
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