The Magazine

House of Cards

In the eyes of a child, the collapse of a family.

Apr 1, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 28 • By WENDY BURDEN
Widget tooltip
Audio version Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

At 14, Alexandra gets her wish, as her escape from the stranglehold of Rokeby comes in the form of boarding school. As she climbs to the tower of the Big House to say farewell to the realm, we get a glimpse of the writer she will become:

From here, I could see the parts of Rokeby I loved and knew so well—the forest paths and streams; the niches in the brush where I used to hide and chase wild rabbits. .  .  . I loved those days—before I’d grown stern and angry, before I’d turned my back on the squalor at Rokeby as an enemy against which I felt compelled to build a fortress of order, hygiene, and self-discipline. I loved those days when my cousins and I used to run around the property all summer long, unsupervised, shirtless, barefoot, wild little orphans all.

Alexandra Aldrich has written a poignant story that lays bare a woman’s search for self-explanation. Readers will enjoy a glimpse into America’s Gilded Age and relish the descriptions of Rokeby, if not its state of deterioration. Alexandra’s situation, steeped as it is in bathos, will undoubtedly appeal to anyone who has felt wronged as a child. Absent from The Astor Orphan, however, is real humor, or the self-deprecation and clear-eyed accounting that buoy the writing of Mary Karr and Jeannette Walls. Missing, too, is the ruthlessness that can make for a riveting memoir.

Wendy Burden is the author of Dead End Gene Pool: A Memoir.