2008: 109. The Architect of Desire

“When I was a little girl, I liked to go into a formal garden of box bushes that lay just to the west of my grandparents’ house.”

The Architect of Desire, Suzannah Lessard

After reading American Eve and getting all caught up in the Evelyn Nesbit/Stanford White thing, I decided I had to re-read this memoir, which is written by White's great granddaughter.  Although it does touch on the infinitely interesting White-Nesbit-Thaw story (and seriously, why aren't they making some kind of Oscar bait-y movie about that whole thing? I know that Joan Collins did The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing in the 50’s, but what a great part for some actress, if done right!), it is more about Lessard's family generally, and how the murder of White (which was never mentioned, ever) rippled out throughout her family's history - though White was far from the only strange character in her blue blooded past (her grandmother was one of the famous “Astor orphans” a bunch of crazy descendants of John Jacob Astor who ran wild through upstate New York).  The thing that makes this worth reading, beside the general human inclination to be fascinated by crazy rich people,* is what a great and evocative writer Lessard is.  She writes about her family - particulary her personal connection to places, ranging from the family compound (for lack of a better word) on Long Island where she grew up, to various Stanford White buildings that she has inadvertantly been drawn to (the arch Washington Square Park, the main building at her small liberal arts college), and captures the strangeness of her relationship with her own past.  It sounds a little frou-frou (or perhaps strained) from my description, but in practice the metaphor of place as an insight into her own family and her history works perfectly.  This memoir is so much more than the "tell my crazy stories in hopes of a book deal" genre that has been so popular lately - it is a real work of art, and I recommend it highly.  The writing alone makes it worth while - the Stanford White angle is just the icing on the well written cake.


*At least, that is my inclination.  Must be my own social class issues, but I cannot read enough books about the crazy lives of the blue-blooded, especially if they are set in the Gilded Age.  I find that stuff infinitely interesting, especially when it turns out that they were all nutty reprobates!

Date/Place Completed: 7/6/08; D.C.

Categories: Non-Fiction; Re-Read; Book Resolution

© Carrie Dunsmore 2017