I’d heard many good things about this book from all the media outlets and there were even some rumors that it would be the biggest hit of the summer. I know that many have been waiting for the chance to read it, and I have been one of them. I think that placing such high expectations on a book can sometimes be ruinous, and in this case I feel like that warning has been borne out for me. Though I went into this book very excited and hoping for a lot, I think that all the hype the book has gotten lately really worked against it.
First of all, while this is definitely supposed to be a humorous and cynical book, at times I felt that the story the author told was just sad. While her mother cavorted all over the globe in an effort to escape her responsibilities, her three children were often left alone to fend for themselves or shuttled off to their ridiculously rich grandparents’ houses where they were all but ignored. The elder Burdens seemed to view the children as mobile pieces of furniture, and at no time did I ever get the feeling that the kids were the welcome visitors that they were supposed to be. Wendy's mother was horrible as well. She was extremely shrew-like and constantly harped on her daughter about her weight and appearance, not noticing that Wendy had a penchant for disturbing fantasies about mortuaries and dead people, or that her eldest son was withdrawn and on shaky ground emotionally. As boyfriend after boyfriend entered the picture, her mother rushed to fulfill these men's longings, never mind what was best for her kids. Wendy relates all this with grand flashes of droll humor, but I'd bet that as a child she often felt alienated and alone. As a matter of fact, she even admits to having these feelings as a youngster, but laughs it off from her adult vantage point several years later.
Wendy's type of family may have been typical for the times in which she grew up, where children were less coddled and adults looked first to their own needs, but in today's society they would have been deemed extremely negligent and possibly even abusive. Money was the only thing that they seemed to care for, and I quickly grew tired of reading about the laundry list of possessions that they had amassed throughout their lives. It's one thing to read about the filthy rich but quite another to fill a book with a pointless inventory of their treasures. Most of these sections bored me and I almost began to relish the focus on Wendy's disturbing behavior, if only to relieve me of the cataloguing of family histories and rehashing of expensive objects. It was meant to intrigue, I'm sure, but it had the opposite effect on me.
The troubling aspects of the family's mental disorders and flagrant abuse of prescription drugs also bothered me. I mean, why in God's name didn't these people ever seek help? They basically swept these secrets under the rug and let the mental illnesses filter down through the generations, heedlessly putting their loved ones in needless danger. There was the uncle that was basically a functioning psychotic who imbibed caffeine and stimulants like they were air, the various members of the family that committed or attempted suicide, and the older generation that looked quietly away from it all. It was sort of frightening to tell you the truth. That Wendy was fascinated by dead and decomposing birds or that she tried to fry her brother's hamster on the stove was frankly not all that surprising.
There was a lot of pain in this story masquerading as humor, and it was impossible not to feel the weight of it all pressing down you as you read. I wasn't sure what to make of the point of this book. It was not only haunting, but very, very sad that the people who these children relied upon to give them love and attention basically ignored them and fed them to the dual wolves of materialism and mental illness. It surprised me to discover that she doesn't harbor a lot of ill will towards her family, but one can argue that their portrayal in this book was revenge enough.
Overall, I finished this book with a lot of sadness and felt that Wendy and her siblings had suffered a great deal during her earlier years. I don't feel that Wendy was really at fault for the things that happened to her, but I do feel that I have to be honest about my reaction to this book. Others may find the story wry and sarcastic, but for me, the endeavor of reading it left me feeling morbidly curious about the family's continued survival, which is not exactly a comfortable feeling. A disturbing read to say the least, and one that I won't soon forget.
This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.