No Country for Old Men ~ A Capsule Book Review

No Country for Old Men book cover
No Country for Old Men
~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp ~

Cormac McCarthy’s 2005 novel, No Country for Old Men, is set in Texas around 1980.

There are three principal characters in No Country for Old Men:

  • Sheriff Ed Tom Bell, sheriff of Terrell County, Texas. He represents the old America where people said “sir” and “ma’am” and were polite to each other. He is approaching the end of his career as a lawman. He has little patience for, or understanding of, the modern world.
  • Anton Chigurh, a psychopathic killer with a philosophical bent. He kills, not so much because he enjoys killing, but because he believes it is what he is supposed to do. He has no sympathy or empathy for any of his victims. In reading the book, I eventually lost track of how much many people he kills.
  • Llewellyn Moss is the “everyman” character. He is thirty-six years old, a decent and ordinary fellow who works as a welder, lives in a trailer and has a pretty, nineteen-year-old wife named Carla Jean.

Out in an isolated spot in the Texas desert, Llewellyn Moss inadvertently stumbles across a scene of carnage: a drug deal gone wrong. There are several vehicles and eight dead bodies. It’s apparent there has been a shootout. After Llewellyn does a little snooping, he comes across a case containing over two million dollars. What does he do? Does he alert the police? No, he takes the case home with him. He may be unsophisticated, but he’s not stupid. He knows that somebody will be coming after him to get the money back and, even if they do get the money back, they will still kill him.

It’s up to traditional Texas lawman Ed Tom Bell to solve the drug-shootout crime in the desert, since it happened in his jurisdiction. Besides eight dead bodies and some shot-up vehicles, he doesn’t have much to go on. Llewellyn Moss knows that as long as he has the two million dollars in his possession, he is in deadly peril. He sends Carla Jean to her mama in Odessa and goes on the run. He comes to realize after a while that, in with the money, is a “transponder” sending a signal of his whereabouts to a receiver. This does not bode well for him.

It’s up to murderer Anton Chigurh to locate the money and get it back, inflicting pain, death, and mayhem with his every move. He might be thought of as the physical incarnation of Satan.

No Country for Old Men is a sort of modern-day western. It might just as easily have taken place in 1880 as 1980. There’s a crime committed and then the crime’s aftermath. There’s the hunter and the hunted. There are good men and bad. There are surprising twists and turns in the plot. There is much death, much violence. Cormac McCarthy turns it all on its ear.

Copyright © 2022 by Allen Kopp

The Road ~ A Capsule Book Review

The Road book cover 3
The Road
~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp ~

A cataclysmic event has occurred. Planet Earth is dying and can no longer support life. Plant life is dying. Trees are toppling over, no longer able to hold themselves upright by their roots. Cities are burned to the ground. There is perpetual ash in the air. The landscape is littered with dead bodies in various stages of decay. Earth has become a living vision of hell.

This didn’t just happen yesterday or last week; it has been going on for years. Most of the people in the world have already died. The people remaining have a horrible life, trying to find enough to eat to keep themselves alive. The “good guys” have to work awfully hard to keep from being killed and eaten by the “bad guys.” The good guys refuse to stoop to eating other people. They have maintained a semblance of humanity; they “carry the fire within them.”

There are two principal characters in The Road, both unnamed: a man and a young boy, his son, about nine years old. They are referred throughout the novel as “the man” and “the boy.” They have left their home and are headed for some unnamed destination south of them. They are seeking more than safety, shelter, or food. As important as those things are, they seek something more profound. The man is driven by the desire to save the boy, his son. He believes God has given him the special task of delivering the boy to another place.

The Road is not a “doomsday thriller,” nor is it another diatribe about saving the environment. It is a simple human story about survival and the hope that there might be something on the other side of death. It is eerie, haunting, profound and memorable. Some readers might see a “God-Christ” metaphor in the “man-boy.”

I’ve read The Road by Cormac McCarthy twice, years apart, and was tremendously impressed both times. It is one the rare novels you will read in your lifetime that advances the art of fiction, that takes the reader to a place he has never been before. It makes you happy that a book can be that good.

Copyright © 2022 by Allen Kopp

The City of Falling Angels ~ A Capsule Book Review

The City of Falling Angels cover
The City of Falling Angels
~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp ~

American writer John Berendt made the charts in 1994 with his first nonfiction book, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, a real-life murder mystery set in Savannah, Georgia. It was phenomenally successful, occupying the New York Times Best-Seller list for 216 weeks, and was made into a movie in 1997 directed by Clint Eastwood.

John Berendt’s second nonfiction book, The City of Falling Angels, came over ten years after Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. The City of Falling Angels is set in Venice, Italy, and, as with Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, it’s full of local color and eccentric real-life characters.

Venice is one of the most unique cities in the world. It has been in existence since about the eighth century. It’s a quiet city because, with canals instead of streets, it has no automotive traffic. The people of Venice walk wherever they go, or take the vaporetto, the water taxi. Venice is a quaint and romantic city abounding in history. It was at one time a powerful city state. Many of its buildings are hundreds of years old.

In 1996, a historic Venetian opera house, Teatro La Fenice, over two hundred years old, caught fire and was entirely destroyed. Investigators, of course, had no clue as to what caused the fire. Was it the result of natural causes, or were sinister forces at work?

At the time of the Fenice fire, the theatre was closed to public performances and was undergoing renovation. The fire happened at night, when any daytime workmen had departed. Because the buildings in Venice are so old and so close together, many other structures were threatened by the fire. Firefighters eventually brought the fire under control, but the opera house was destroyed. Would it be possible to rebuild it as it had been before the fire, or was it a case for the wrecking ball?

The City of Falling Angels follows the years-long investigation into the fire, with many twists and turns, many false leads and conspiracy theories; much finger-pointing and gnashing of teeth.

Sometimes The City of Falling Angels veers off into subjects other than the fire, such as a Venetian glass-blowing family of many generations, a Venetian poet who committed suicide, the Ezra Pound Foundation (he was an expatriate American poet who lived in Venice), or in-fighting among the Venetian upper-crust. During these long digressions from the fire, we wish to return to the subject at hand. The fire is much more successful at holding the reader’s interest.

Copyright © 2022 by Allen Kopp  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mirror Mirror ~ A Capsule Book Review

Mirror Mirror cover
Mirror Mirror
~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp ~

Gregory Maguire’s 2003 novel, Mirror Mirror, is set in Tuscany, Italy, in the early 1500s. A beautiful girl named Bianca de Nevada lives with her father, Vicente, on an isolated hilltop estate called Montefiore. Bianca, a motherless girl, has lived a sheltered life and doesn’t know much of the world. Lucrezia Borgia, real-life daughter of Pope Alexander VI (the Borgia Pope), comes to Montefiore with her brother, Cesare Borgia. Lucrezia and her brother Cesare are both moved by Bianca in different ways: Cesare wants her for a sex toy, even though she is still a child, and Lucrezia is jealous of Bianca’s girlish beauty, which will soon be womanly beauty.

Lucrezia and Cesare decide they will stay at Montefiore for a while. Cesare is suffering from the French disease (we all know what that is). Cesare sends Bianca’s father on a (nearly) impossible quest (to get him out of the way) to find a fabled branch from the Tree of Life (you know, the one from the Garden of Eden), that still has three perfect apples attached to its branches. Bianca’s father doubts the branch with the apples on it even exists, but he has no other choice but to comply with Cesare’s commands. It might take him years to find it (if it even exists) and he might die in the effort.

With Bianca’s father on his quest, Bianca is left at Montefiore under the questionable care of Lucrezia Borgia, who just might do anything. Since Bianca has flowered into a lovely young woman and is no longer a child, Lucrezia is still jealous of her and has decided she will have her killed. She hires a young man to take Bianca into the woods and do away with her. The young man does as Lucrezia tells him to do, but he finds he is unable to kill her. He leaves her alone in the woods, making Lucrezia think he has done the deed.

Left alone in the woods, Bianca falls into a deep sleep that mimics death. Seven dwarfs (nothing like the Disney variety) find her and, believing she is dead, place her in a glass coffin and watch over her body. She will awake, though, and when she does she will go back to Montefiore. Her father, contrary to all expectations, has returned from his quest, bearing the ever-elusive branch from the Tree of Life.

Mirror Mirror blends elements of legend, history, fairy tale, and fantasy into an imaginative, lightning-speed novel. If you are an admirer of Gregory Maguire’s work (Wicked, Son of a Witch, Notes on a Cowardly Lion, Out of Oz, After Alice, etcetera.), you will find everything here that makes his work unlike anybody else’s. Highly recommended for connoisseurs of the different and unusual.

Copyright © 2021 by Allen Kopp    

Shuggie Bain ~ A Capsule Book Review

Shuggie Bain cover

Shuggie Bain
 A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp  

Shuggie Bain’s real name is Hugh. He is a slight, sensitive, preteen boy (at school he is called a “wee tiny poof”) living with his mother and his older half-brother and half-sister in a wretched housing complex in Glasgow, Scotland, in the 1980s. Shuggie doesn’t have a very happy childhood. The family is poor and on the “dole,” but his biggest problem is that his mother, Agnes Bain, is a hopeless alcoholic, “hopeless” in the sense that she will never stop drinking, will never “get better,” and will eventually drink herself to death. Shuggie loves his mother and he believes, unrealistically, that if he stays by her side, when everybody else abandons her, he can protect her and get her to stop drinking.

Shuggie’s  estranged father is Shug Bain, or “Big Shug,” as he is called. He is a real bastard, a self-centered, womanizing, amoral taxi driver. Shuggie’s mother, Agnes, leaves her first husband, taking her two children with her, to marry Big Shug. From that unfortunate union is born the youngest of her three children, Shuggie “Hugh” Bain.

Shuggie’s older half-brother is named Alexander but everybody calls him “Leek.” Shuggie’s half-sister is Catherine. Agnes if the kind of mother who makes her children want to get away from her. She has good intentions as a mother, but she always manages to disgust and alienate her children with her incessant drunkenness. Catherine marries at an early age and moves to South Africa, thousands of miles away from her mother.

The housing complex where Shuggie lives with his family is called Pithead. It was originally intended for coal miners, but most of the coal mines have closed down. The residents of Pithead are crude, spiteful, and cruel. The women hate Agnes Bain because she dresses up whenever she goes out of the house. People who like her tell her she resembles Elizabeth Taylor. Her good looks don’t help her very much.

The Scottish people in Shuggie Bain speak working-class English. They use a lot of words that American readers probably won’t be unfamiliar with. For example, “boak” means vomit; “biro” is an ink pen; a “grass” is a snitch; a “dout” is a cigarette; “wellies” are boots; “papped” means to be thrown out of the house; “weans” are children or offspring; “scheme” is a housing project; “gallus” is an act of boldness or daring. If you don’t have a dictionary of Scottish colloquialisms and slang, these unfamiliar words can usually be deduced from their context in the sentence.

Shuggie Bain is an ambitious (430 pages), rich first novel by a writer named Douglas Stuart. It is a story as much about a self-destructive alcoholic as it is about being the child of an alcoholic. It is a book steeped in time and place (Glasgow, Scotland, of the 1980s). A compulsively readable book, a book well worth reading.

Copyright © 2021 by Allen Kopp

A Tale of Two Cities ~ A Capsule Book Review

A Tale of Two Cities Book Cover 2
A Tale of Two Cities
~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp ~

Charles Dickens’ superb historical novel, A Tale of Two Cities, is set in the late eighteenth century, before and during the bloody French Revolution. It was first published in 1859 and has long been a mainstay of English literature.

The French Revolution wasn’t called the Reign of Terror for nothing. It was what today might be called “class warfare.” The ordinary people of France had long been poor and oppressed. They saw the aristocracy as a blood-sucking class of soulless degenerates who spent lavishly and lived extravagantly, without regard for anybody of an inferior class. It was natural that the poor should rebel, but when they did, it was without all reason. They killed indiscriminately, anybody that for any reason they didn’t like, or anybody who had had any suspicious alliance with anybody they didn’t like. Ordinary rules of fairness and decency were tossed aside. The bloody Guillotine, used without restraint, became the dreaded symbol of the Revolution.

The plot of A Tale of Two Cities is driven by a handful of characters caught up in the tragic tide of events that is the French Revolution:

  • Alexandre Manette, a French physician wrongly imprisoned in the Bastille for eighteen years because he knows too much about a certain aristocratic family.
  • Lucie Manette, his daughter who believed he was dead.
  • Miss Pross, faithful companion/guardian of Lucie Manette.
  • Monsieur Defarge, the former servant of Dr. Manette who facilitates his release from the Bastille after eighteen years.
  • Madame Defarge, wife of Monsieur Defarge, virulently anti-aristo She personifies all that’s wrong with the Revolution.
  • Charles Darnay, heir of the aristocratic Evrémonde family who relinquishes his birthright and becomes a teacher in England under an assumed identity. He marries Lucie Manette and they are happy together for a while but, of course, the Revolution threatens to ruin their lives.
  • Jarvis Lorry, an elderly banker, a “man of business,” who befriends Alexandre Manette, Lucie Manette and Charles Darnay, and lends a helping hand to them throughout their ordeal.
  • Sydney Carton, a lawyer and drunkard who befriends Charles Darnay, Lucie Manette and Alexandre Manette. He appears to be a wastrel and a disenchanted cynic, but in the end he is the noble hero of the story, making the ultimate sacrifice for those he has come to love.

A Tale of Two Cities is about a radical political ideology that grew out of conditions of poverty and suffering and, while discarding the rule of law, disregarding decency and fairness, destroyed many lives and nearly destroyed a country. It’s a story that would be played out many times and in many places, in many different forms, up to the present day.

The 1936 black-and-white movie version of A Tale of Two Cities with Ronald Colman as Sydney Carton comes highly recommended. It’s moving, entertaining, engaging, perfectly cast, intelligent, and faithful to Charles Dickens’ great novel.

Copyright © 2021 by Allen Kopp

The Beans of Egypt, Maine ~ A Capsule Book Review

The Beans of Egypt, Maine cover
The Beans of Egypt, Maine
~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp ~

You probably wouldn’t want to live next door to the Bean family. There are a lot of Bean woman, a lot of Bean men, and a lot of Bean children. The Beans conceive children (sometimes with other family members) as carelessly as they raise them, and they are, to put it charitably, redneck trash. There are a lot of other adjectives that might also be applied to them: dirty, poor, ignorant, feckless, troublesome, contentious and scary.

Earlene Pomerleau lives with her tiny father, Lee Pomerleau, across the road from the turquoise-blue Bean trailer that is strung year-round with Christmas lights. As a child, she is alternately repelled and fascinated by the Beans. Her father and her Scripture-spouting grandmother warn her to stay away from the Beans, but she mixes with them every chance she gets.

The head Bean is Rubie (Reuben) Bean. He is large and crude, with a full, black beard. He is also illiterate. He doesn’t have a very good record with wives or with women in general. One of his wives, the one named Marie, says to a visitor: Did I tell you my ex-husband used to beat the shit out of me?

Rubie Bean is fertile and sexual. He has lots of children, maybe some that he doesn’t even know about. One of his sons is Beal Bean. He figures prominently in the story. He is the image of his father, Rubie Bean. He also has a way with women and is the father of many children, including offspring with his aunt.

When Earlene is a young woman, she has a fight with her father when he washes her mouth out with shampoo and runs away from home, where she consequently ends up spending the night with Beal Bean. He impregnates her on that night and she ends up marrying him, much to the chagrin of her father and grandmother. Several months later, she has a daughter whom she names Bonnie Loo.

Earlene’s life with Beal Bean is not an easy one. He is frequently out of work, gets into fights regularly, and is an all-round hell-raiser. Earlene, for some reason we don’t quite understand, is deeply in love with him. He will only ever be trouble for her. As long as she is married to him, she will never rise out of her redneck-trash status.

Carolyn Chute’s 1985 novel, The Beans of Egypt Maine, is a colorful and compelling novel with fascinating characters—funny and memorable reading. It is an important addition to the sub-genre of American literature known as “redneck-trash” literature. Other titles in this sub-genre include The Death of Sweet Mister and Tomato Red by Danial Woodrell and Tobacco Road and God’s Little Acre by Erskine Caldwell. For my money, people on the lower end of the socio-economic scale make for much more interesting reading than the PHDs with their angst-ridden marriages and left-leaning politics.

Copyright © 2021 by Allen Kopp  

Elephants Can Remember ~ A Capsule Book Review

Elephants Can Remember book cover

Elephants Can Remember
 A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp  

English mystery writer Agatha Christie lived from 1890 to 1976. She wrote sixty-six novels and fourteen short story collections in her long career and is the most published fiction author of all time, with two billion copies of her books in print. She also wrote the world’s longest-running play, The Mousetrap, which ran in London from 1952 to 2020.

One of Agatha Christie’s last published works was her 1972 novel, Elephants Can Remember. The story involves a fifteen-year-old murder-suicide, or what appeared to be a murder-suicide. The “elephants” of the title are the people who remember the tragedy in all its detail because, as you know, elephants remember everything.

Ariadne Oliver is the character in Elephants Can Remember who sets the story in motion. As a successful novelist, she attends a “writers’ luncheon,” where she is accosted by an “odious” woman named Mrs. Burton-Cox. Ariadne Oliver’s goddaughter, a girl named Celia Ravenscroft, is considering marrying Mr. Burton-Cox’s adopted son, Desmond. In considering the murder-suicide tragedy that occurred fifteen years earlier, Mrs. Burton-Cox wants to know if Celia’s mother killed Celia’s father and then killed herself, or if Celia’s father murder Celia’s mother and then killed himself. (Got that?) It seems that Mrs. Burton-Cox can’t allow her adopted son to marry Celia Ravenscroft until this question is answered. She believes Ariadne Oliver knows the answer, or at least can find out.

Not being a detective, Ariadne enlists the aid of her friend Hercule Poirot, the Belgian detective who has solved so many different cases in so many other works of fiction by Agatha Christie. If anybody can find out what really happened, it is he.

Margaret “Molly” Ravenscroft and her husband, General Alistair Ravenscroft, seemed happy. He was about sixty and she thirty-five. People who knew them didn’t know of any reason why they would kill themselves. The police ruled the deaths a simple murder-suicide and nothing more. There are people, though (“elephants”) who never accepted the police version of what really happened. A lot of time has elapsed since the event (fifteen years), so the people Poirot talk to about the case have to dredge up fifteen-year-old memories. A lot of the “elephants” are old by this time.

We find that Mrs. Ravenscroft had an identical twin sister named Dorothea, who had severe mental illness. When Poirot uncovers the “truth” about this crazy twin sister, he is able to piece together what really happened, as only he can.

Elephants Can Remember is formulaic, as all of Agatha Christie’s novels are. They follow a certain predictable pattern. The reader is presented with a set of circumstances and a cast of “suspects”, and in the third act the intrepid detective (in this case, Hercule Poirot) gathers all the suspects together and explains in great detail the solution of the crime. The guilt party (or parties) is carted off to the hoosegow and the innocent suspects breathe a sigh of relief and go on their merry way.

Copyright © 2021 by Allen Kopp

My Policeman ~ A Capsule Book Review

My Policeman cover

My Policeman
~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp ~

My Policeman, a novel by Bethan Roberts, is set mostly in 1957 in the seaside town of Brighton, England. Marion Taylor is an unmarried teacher of small children. There is a man she likes named Tom Burgess. She doesn’t understand Tom very well; she wonders why he is cool toward her and rather aloof. He is handsome, blond, athletic and well-built; he goes swimming in the sea every morning and he eventually teaches her to swim.

Tom is what might be called a straight-arrow type. As a police officer, he is interested in projecting an image of conventionality and respectability. Marion falls in love with him, while he remains blasé on the whole matter of courtship and marriage. She begins to suspect he is gay but believes that she can get him to change, if only he will marry her. Because marriage is what is expected of every young man and because he must project an image of respectability to the world, Tom marries Marion. We can see it’s a marriage that probably isn’t going to be a smashing success.

Tom meets a man thirteen years older than himself named Patrick Hazelwood. Patrick is worldly and sophisticated; he works as a curator in a museum and knows the world of art, music and books. He is also unabashedly gay, at a time in England when sexual activity between men was still a crime and punishable by confinement in prison.

Patrick and Tom begin a “discreet” relationship, although Tom, as a police constable, must be very careful that his “secret” is never revealed. Marion knows that Tom and Patrick are “friends” but doesn’t suspect (at first) the true nature of the relationship. She wants to believe that Tom, with her help, might be cured of his “affliction.” (None so blind as those who will not see.)

Patrick invites Tom to go on a trip with him to romantic Venice. While Tom thinks there is nothing wrong with the two of them going to Venice together, Marion, as Tom’s wife, doesn’t take it well; she is jealous and moved to commit an uncharitable act, to put it mildly. It is this trip to Venice that provides the catalyst for the novel’s tragic third act.

The novel alternates between first-person passages narrated first by Marion and then by Patrick. They are both besotted with Tom. While most of the action takes place in the late 1950s, some of the novel is set in the late 1990s, showing how these three characters change over forty years through the unique dynamic they share.

My Policeman espouses the themes of jealousy, guilt, and the stupidity of laws that govern human sexual behavior (the lengths to which these laws force people to go to conceal their true natures). It is a memorable, intelligent, adult story. It’s not a story I would recommend to my elderly mother but, then, she and I are tuned to completely different frequencies.

Copyright © 2021 by Allen Kopp   

Empty Mansions ~ A Capsule Book Review

Empty Mansions cover
Empty Mansions
~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp ~

W. A. Clark, who lived from 1839 to 1925, was an American entrepreneur who became known as the “Copper King.” He amassed a huge fortune with his copper mining (also banking and railroads) interests in Butte, Montana. He served as United States Senator from the state of Montana, but he became mired in political scandal that tarnished his name and reputation. He was famous for his flamboyant way of doing things and his expensive and showy homes, first in Butte and then on Millionaires’ Row in New York City, where he built a remarkable 121-room mansion at a staggering price.

W. A. Clark was married to two different women. His first wife, Katherine Louise, contracted typhoid fever at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893 and died at age fifty. (They had seven children, four of whom survived past the age of sixteen.) He married his second wife, Anna Eugenia La Chapelle, in 1901, when he was 62 and she was 23. He had two daughters with Anna: Louise Amelia Andrée Clark (1902-1919), who went by the name Andrée, and Huguette Marcelle Clark (1906-2011). Huguette (pronounced oo-get) is the subject of the nonfiction book, Empty Mansions, by Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell, Jr.

Huguette Clark was born in France in 1906 and grew up in New York City in a world of unimaginable wealth with her father, her older sister, and her mother, in the fabulous Clark mansion on Millionaire’s Row on the edge of Central Park. When she was 22, she married a man named Bill Gower, who was a year older than she was. The marriage was never consummated and ended in a few months, although Huguette and Bill Gower remained friends until his death.

When W. A. Clark died in 1925 at age 86, his immense wealth was divided among his five surviving children, including Huguette. Huguette continued living with her mother, Anna, after her father’s death, but the two of them (Anna and Huguette) vacated the Clark mansion and moved into an exclusive apartment building at 907 Fifth Avenue.

Living alone with her mother in a luxurious New York apartment building, Huguette was isolated from the ugly realities of the real world. She cultivated her interests in music, painting, Japanese art and architecture, French illustration, and rare dolls. She owned at least two priceless Stradivari violins and collected paintings, painted by such artists as Monet, Degas, and Renoir. (Each of these paintings sells for upwards of ten to 25 million dollars.)

And then there were the homes. Huguette and her mother owned Bellosguardo, a fabulous mansion built on a cliff in Santa Barbara, California, overlooking the Pacific. Maintaining Bellosguardo cost a fortune in itself. Nearby, they kept a “farm,” which was  a place they could escape to if the Japanese attacked California during World War II. Huguette and her mother never lived at the farm.

Back in New York, Huguette bought another apartment in the building, where she and her mother lived, which was to be her primary residence. Later she bought another apartment above her to protect her from undesirable neighbors, for a total of three apartments in the same luxury apartment building. (After Huguette’s mother’s death at age 85 in 1963, Huguette kept her apartment exactly as she had left it.) In later years, Huguette bought an estate in Connecticut so she would have a place to live in case of a terrorist attack in New York City. All of these fabulous homes remained unoccupied for many years. These are the “empty mansions” of the book’s title.

Abandoning her apartment, Huguette moved to a hospital, where she lived in a small hospital room for the last twenty years of her life, surrounded by a small group of people she knew and trusted. The hospital very indulgently allowed her to occupy the same room for all those years because they hoped to get a large chunk of her fortune when she died.

Huguette was generous to the people close to her. She gave more than 30 million dollars to her long-time nurse. (There were accusations, of course, of people manipulating her for their own ends.) When she died at the remarkable age of 104 (two weeks short of her 105th birthday), her fortune was worth an estimated $300 million, counting her paintings, dolls, jewels, real estate, furniture, etc. Not surprisingly, a long battle ensued among her blood relatives, most of whom she had never even met, for her money.

Empty Mansions is the fascinating story of a super-rich American family, the Clark family: the flamboyant father, W. A. Clark, his two wives, his nine children, his life and times, but, more specifically, it’s about his youngest child, Huguette Marcelle Clark, who lived a life of secrecy, cut off from the world, but living life her own way and having lots of time (104 years) and an unlimited amount of money to indulge her eccentricities. Most of us can’t even begin to imagine what it’s like to have so much money that ten million dollars seems like so much pocket change.

Copyright © 2021 by Allen Kopp