Wendy Burden, the great-great-great-great granddaughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt, may have had more than a few hard knocks in her childhood (her father committed suicide, her mother liked to pretend she didn't have children at all), but the one thing that she could never be accused of is conventionality.
In this humorous look at the decline of her blue-blooded family, Burden recalls with great detail the eccentric characters from her father's family. After her father's death, she and her brother, Will, were shipped off to spend most of their time with their grandparents while her anorexic, alcoholic mother jet-setted around the world in search of the perfect tan. The children spend most of their time with the 5th Avenue mansion's staff, which included a famous French chef, stoic English butler, alcoholic Scottish governess, and occasionally incontinent Irish maids. One of her uncles is a Nazi, along with the German chauffeur. Wendy's grandfather hated her because she wasn't a boy, and her grandmother wasn't exactly the warm and fuzzy type.
While exploring the mansion one day, Wendy stumbles across a Charles Addams book ("Charlie," as he's called when he visits their summer home) and begins to model herself after Wednesday Addams, constructing her own guillotine and collecting dead birds, much to the chagrin of her critical and mercurial mother. And when her mother remarries, Wendy's life is turned upside-down again, as they relocate first to rural Virginia and then the dreary suburbs of London.
The best part about this book is twofold: one, the generous and hilarious characterizations of the people in Wendy's childhood, and two, the mouth-watering descriptions of the feasts that the Burden family ate on a regular basis. While the prose isn't a work of art, the zany story itself is so compelling that the book clips along at a merry pace. Hard to put down in the way that these kind of books are -- it ain't Shakespeare, but it is sure entertaining.