Landscape architect Gaston traces the life of her grandmother, a Jazz Age “It girl” gone wrong.
The author uncovers a family history long obscured by secrets and lies. Rosamond Pinchot was a New York socialite plucked from not-quite-obscurity by famed producer/director Max Reinhardt, who in 1923 discovered the tall, striking 19-year-old aboard a cruise ship and quickly established her as a Broadway star. She became a nationally known figure, appearing in advertisements and tracked by pundits. Gaston paints a dynamic portrait of her grandmother, making liberal use of Pinchot’s youthful diaries to reveal a privileged, conflicted girl chronically struggling with what she called “the Cinderella feeling,” a euphemism for the depression that would eventually lead to her suicide and subsequent near-disappearance from family lore. In lapidary though occasionally overheated prose, the author deftly juggles multiple chronologies and personal reminiscences to limn Pinchot and her bounder of a husband, “Big Bill” Gaston, their well-bred milieu and the various celebrities of the period that she knew. The effort and execution are admirable, but Pinchot was not a significant artist, or even, based on the evidence here, a particularly interesting person; it’s questionable whether general readers will much care about this story. It functions well as a window into a largely vanished social and cultural structure, but readers may have the nagging feeling of sitting through a protracted examination of a stranger’s family album.
Heartfelt and accomplished, but not a page-turner.