Friday, March 1, 2013

Once Upon a Time: A True Story

1985, 1986 Fawcett Gold edition
Gloria Vanderbilt
Once Upon a Time: A True Story
Original price $4.50, purchase price $3.50
Very worn paperback

This is easily the worst biography I've read so far, which is a shame because Vanderbilt has led an interesting life.  I never thought that I'd wish an autobiography had been written by someone else, but her annoying style kept making me want to scream, or slap her.  She's covering from ages one to seventeen, so she seems to be trying to write from the perspectives of a baby, child, and then adolescent, but this means that she repeats phrases several times in a row (maybe because she had a stutter, although this happens even when she doesn't) and calls everyone by a cutesy nickname.  Her beloved nanny isn't just "Dodo," she's "Big Elephant."  Friends and enemies in her teens get "The" in front of their names.  She adopts her mother's habit of calling people "Pooks."  And so on.

On top of that, because she can't tell us anything she didn't know at the time, we never quite learn the juicy details of The Custody Battle.  (I had to go on Wikipedia to clear up things up for myself.)  Her mother seems to have been bisexual and was accused of a lesbian affair, so Gloria, who just wanted to stay with Dodo, grew up with her emotionally distant paternal aunt, mostly without Dodo.  Gloria didn't know anything about this accusation until her date at a dance was expelled for being a "pansy."  And Gloria herself had a butch friend who tried something (again, vague) with her and they could never be friends again.

The title suggests she led a fairy-tale life, and indeed she often gets lost in fantasies of love, romantic as well as filial, all of them over the top with little or no pay-off.  I was far from enchanted, and this is also the worst book of the 1980s so far.

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