Patrik Henry Bass of Essence Magazine reports on newly released book titles and the world of publishing in "The Book Reader."
F. Scott Fitzgerald famously wrote, "Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me.”
How different? Read Meryl Gordon's sensational new biography "The Phantom of Fifth Avenue: The Mysterious Life and Scandalous Death of Heiress Huguette Clark."
Huguette who? When she died in 2011 at 104, breathless tabloid cover stories painted Clark as a madcap heiress and recluse who watched endless hours of "The Flinstones" and spent her considerable fortune on antique French porcelain dolls.
Gordon's portrait is far more complicated and far more compelling. We learn that Clark was once a vivacious and adventurous young socialite. By the time she was 22, her fortune was estimated at $50 million. She even married her childhood sweetheart.
So why did Clark pull a Greta Garbo, choosing to be left alone with servants and sycophants? Gordon does provide several clues. Her short-lived marriage possibly turned her off on love. And a pivotal visit from the FBI in her Fifth Avenue mansion during World War II—read the book for the connection—may have led to a nervous collapse.
But does any of this really matter? To some, yes, like those following the fallout from Clark's estate, now estimated at $300 million. Those details are in the book, but that's not what I found interesting. I was in awe at the precision that Gordon delicately unravels Clark’s psychological wounds and whims. In the book, Clark is controlling. She's also controlled. She is also funny, strange, smart and human. Very human.
In an age where socialites now have publicists, and everyone is everywhere on social media, there's something bizarrely comforting about "The Phantom of Fifth Avenue," and that is that narrative non-fiction, rich in detail and reporting, still exists and still travels well from the beach to the backyard.