The Astor Orphan

The Astors were once the wealthiest family in America, a dynastic family whose land was granted to them in the 1680s, and an ancestor who signed the Declaration of Independence. Things are different today. The family has lost most of its money and fallen into steep decline. Alexandra Aldrich, a direct descendant of this family, has written a memoir that chronicles the family, but putting her own story front and center. The once-grand Rokeby, the 43-room family mansion, is in seedy disrepair. Alexandra grew up in squalor, not genteel poverty, at Rokeby. Slovenly personal habits, alcoholism and bohemianism characterize her parents and grandmother, so like the author of The Glass Castle, the child is cast into the parental role. By stint of character and will she manages to escape. It’s an awful story with no one to love and admire in it. Of course the reader wants Alexandra to do well. The sharp contrast between her famous ancestors and incompetent family is pathetic. How do people bring themselves to reveal horrible family tales? There must be some psychological need to shed the past, like a snake sloughing off an old skin as it grows.