Sunday, March 20, 2011

# 13 - Savage Grace by Natalie Robins and Steven M. L. Aronson

Family biography, true crime, horror story. This is the story of the Baeklands, a rich and prominent American family. The elder Baekland made his fortune by inventing Bakelite, a popular plastic.

Leo Baekland was a grandson of the original Baekland. He was, like his father, a bit eccentric and got into all sorts of hobbies, instead, of just, you know, working. He got married to a beautiful "actress" Barbara Daly, and from there flows their tragic tale.

They were living the life of social butterflies, flitting around Europe, hosting parties, and hanging out with famous people. They also son, Anthony, who they took around with them in their travels.

The family relationship was tumultuous to say the least. There were loud fights, adulterous relations, and possible incest. Finally, Leo Baekland left his family for his mistress, who was supposedly Anthony's ex girlfriend. Naturally, the story ends in tragedy for all involved.

The story us told through the statements of friends and relatives of the family, and even Leo Baekland himself. While reading, I kept asking myself, wow, are they really that articulate, even poetic at times? I guess it's possible, the circle being mostly rich socialites and artists. But I didn't really find that way of telling the story successful. It was a bit repetitive with different people saying the same thing over and over again. I mean, a story that juicy (murder, incest, adultery, homosexuality, CRAY-CRAY), should be anything but boring, but it really was, in some parts.

Plus, maybe I'm dense or whatever, but I really didn't really feel that I had an understanding or insight into the psyche of the subjects. I don't know. But what I do know is that they were supremely fucked up. It was a bit scary in a way, because when one has children, as I do, we always imagine what would happen if our kids end up as fucked up as the kids in the news. It was extra scary for me because I do see a little of myself in Barbara. Not the incest, obvs, but just that I am slightly (ok more) domineering and very intense at times, and a bit cold at times. I am trying really hard not to bring that kind of stuff to my kids, but its scary, just the same.

Do I guess the book succeeds in the sense that it is a cautionary tale (not to go cavorting in Europe and living the rich life. haha), but it didn't succeed in engaging me and making me understand what's behind these mad acts.

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