A memoir from publishing tycoon Nelson Doubleday’s daughter, an abstract expressionist painter.
Shuttled between a Long Island mansion and a South Carolina plantation, Neltje (she prefers to be recognized by her first name only) could seemingly never satisfy her father, and her biological mother comes across as a phantom of sorts, incapable of loving her daughter. Neltje's older brother, Nelson Jr., felt like a link to sanity for a while, but he eventually distanced himself from his sister. Daily life worsened considerably when Neltje was 9 and suffered repeated sexual abuse at the hands of a grown man trusted by her parents. Sent to school in Switzerland, she thrived briefly but ultimately suffered disappointment. In a memoir shot through with self-pity, Neltje chronicles the deaths of her sometimes-cruel, alcoholic father in 1949 and her mother 30 years later. The author sought refuge in marriage at age 18 and bore two children while in her early 20s, but none of that seemed to lift the despondency for long. Later in life, Neltje lost much of her inherited wealth to a dishonest second husband. Due to her elevated status, famous people flew in and out of her life; cameo appearances include W. Somerset Maugham, Theodore Roethke, and Irving Stone. The memoir takes a turn for the positive when Neltje moves west, finding geographical beauty and personal repose in Wyoming, which she has called home for nearly 50 years. Upon arriving in the West, the author decided to become a visual artist, and she also began to understand economic self-sufficiency and the theory and importance of practicing and preaching feminism.
It is difficult to discern the audience for this self-absorbed, often inartful memoir of an artist whose renown has not spread widely beyond the American West.