Sunday, March 27, 2016

Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune


Rating: 4 Stars


Initially this book caught my attention because of the Clark mansion on the cover. I have an obsession with Gilded-Age New York but had never heard of the Clark family - apparently I was not alone in this. The title was intriguing, though I did no research on Huguette before reading. Perhaps that was for the best.

I am so torn as to what I believe. Was she essentially held hostage by a hospital and her money men, nurse, and personal assistant, who all but forced her to sign these massive checks? Or did she simply love to give away money as though it were nothing? Truthfully, a bit of both may be true but I'm inclined to believe she was, for the most part, mentally sound the majority of the time. She was simply generous beyond the telling of it. And when you have THAT MUCH money, a million seems like pocket change. But still. It was her money and it feels like so many people had malicious intentions and only sought to benefit themselves.

I especially find the behavior of her nurse's children appalling, knowing just by hinting at financial trouble they could get a couple thousand, or a million, out of her. Her nurse seems just as awful. But her family? The 19 descendants who already received a previous inheritance? DISGUSTING. None of those rats ever bothered to try for 40 years to communicate with her, yet once there was money to be had, they were so concerned.

The story itself it wonderfully told and easy to breeze through, starting with Mrs Clark's father and how he slowly but surely made his fortune. It's heartbreaking to read of loss after loss that Huguette endured; to outlive her mother, father, and sister by so many years.

It's easy to speculate on what drove Mrs Clark to behave as she did - and further heartbreaking to learn of the terrible condition she was in when she was taken to the hospital for cancer treatment. Surely there was some underlying condition, but I appreciate the author respecting the privacy that Huguette fought so desperately for, even time and again when she was literally robbed by Citibank and her precious family jewelry sold. She suffered tremendous setbacks, yet continued to do as she pleased, collecting her dolls and designing an assortment of housing for them, among her various art projects.

I truly hope plans for a movie do no go through - especially with Ryan Murphy at the helm. It is time to let this extraordinary woman rest in peace.

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