Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Review - Empty Mansions

Title: Empty Mansions - The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune
Author: Bill Dedman, Paul Clark Newell
Publisher: Ballantine Books (September 10, 2013)
Format: Hardcover
Genre: Non-Fiction

Looking at the cover of the ARC of Empty Mansions, you see a blurb that says “The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune”. I thought that from page one the reader would learn about this mysterious woman. That is not the case, the first one hundred and eight pages are about her father, W.A. Clark and his questionable business practices and his even more questionable relationship with the young woman that would eventually be Hugette’s mother.

You also see that Paul Clark Newell, Jr. is credited as a co-writer. Mr. Newell is a relative of Hugette but has very little input into the book. An occasional highlighted paragraph concerning a telephone conversation from twenty or more years previous does not make a co-author. To me, that came off as an unfulfilled enticement solely to give Bill Dedman more credibility.

What the reader is left with is hearsay and opinions since Huguette Clark was a recluse and granted no interviews while she was alive, and furthermore had little to no contact with her family for over fifty years.

Because of Hugette’s hobbies of dolls and dollhouses, she was thought of as simple-minded. This is what appeared to be the green light for those that she trusted to take advantage of her. Doctor’s, lawyer’s, hospital CEO’s, personal caregiver’s, supposed friends, all had their hands out and Hugette’s kind heart kept writing checks.

Her peculiar ways left her estate in shambles. Multimillion-dollar homes that were never lived in, the contents of safety deposit boxes sold due address errors and lack of payment, artwork stole right off her walls. The saddest part of all was that those around her were more interested in their payout than in her. She was only a check writer.

When you read this book, you are presented with two sides of this rather curious woman - the well traveled music lover who supported the arts and a generation of artists, and the eccentric woman who chose to live out her years in a hospital room with the curtain drawn battling to leave her remaining estate to the people she cared about and charities that honored her mother and sister.

At the end of the book, there is an extensive list of notes showing Mr. Dedman’s research, but did I come away knowing Hugette Clark any better? No, what I did come away knowing is that when large sums of money are in the mix, people and corporations are a bunch of thieves and no wonder Ms Clark chose to live her life on her terms.

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