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CLASS by Geoffrey Douglas


The Wreckage of an American Family

by Geoffrey Douglas

Pub Date: Oct. 15th, 1992
ISBN: 0-8050-1737-2
Publisher: Henry Holt

A harrowing memoir by the scion of a prominent New York family, chronicling the alcoholism, despair, and violence that seethed beneath a decade-long joyride of parties. Archie Douglas was heir to a copper-mining fortune, had a token job as a stockbroker, and served as a New York State legislator. Ellie Reed was a stunningly beautiful debutante with a husky voice and her choice of suitors. Here, their 13-year marriage—an unmitigated disaster culminating in her suicide in 1952—is chronicled by their son. His memories of childhood are of having his cheeks pinched by party guests while his father aroused howls of laughter with anti-Semitic jokes. The author's mother stayed in bed until noon. His father, who always smelled of whiskey, was subject to bursts of irrational anger and violence. Douglas re-creates a child's view of events, in which his mother's stays in a mental institution were explained as trips to Europe and in which he expressed his own unhappiness by constantly stuffing small objects in his ears. He combines this with retrospective knowledge, gained from his mother's therapists and from family recollections, to detail both parents' affairs and his mother's vain attempts to find the strength to leave the marriage. Douglas is most moving when describing the loneliness and confusion of his years as a neglected child—one who, for instance, traded a photograph of his newly dead mother for a friend's autographed Duke Snider baseball card. A disturbing poor-little-rich-boy story, detailing the tolls that privilege-engendered aimlessness exacted on one family.