In this novelistic debut, a poor girl with a rich pedigree remembers coming-of-age in the decaying shell of her family’s once-grand Hudson Valley home.
By the time Aldrich’s grandparents inherited the Rokeby estate, their branch of a dynasty that included the 19th-century trader John Jacob Astor had lost almost all its wealth except for the 450-acre lot on the Hudson that had been in the family since the 1680s. Three hundred years later, when this memoir opens, the 10-year-old Aldrich and her destitute parents shared the elegantly crumbling mansion with her better-off aunt and uncle and two younger cousins. Her alcoholic grandmother and a pampered Labrador retriever shared a less-opulent guesthouse of more recent vintage, and a motley assortment of transients and bohemians lived rent-free, courtesy of her father Teddy’s generosity (or inability to say no), in various outbuildings scattered around the property. A bright and sensitive girl on the doorstep of puberty, Aldrich was just beginning to feel the sting of shame associated with being the child of the charming but feckless Teddy, who, though educated at the best schools, had no skills or desires to be anything but the lord of Rokeby, and his beautiful, sharp-tongued wife. Her shame only increased when Teddy welcomed a mysterious French woman named Giselle into the fold. Rokeby had once been a paradise for Aldrich. With its scandalous secrets, it was becoming more like a prison she longed to escape through the auspices of a hypothetical unknown wealthy aunt or through her own skill at the violin. It’s a trick to tell a story this rich and complicated through the eyes of a child without losing the subtleties of character and nuances of history, but Aldrich pulls it off with aplomb.
Vividly gothic family romance.