book review: The Rainbow Comes and Goes

rainbow comes and goes

The Rainbow Comes and Goes: A Mother and Son on Life, Love, and Loss by Anderson Cooper and Gloria Vanderbilt. Harper| April 2016| 290 pages | $27.99| ISBN: 9780062454942

RATING: 3.5/5*

 “I may look like my dad, but I am most definitely your son. We share the same drive and determination, the same restlessness and rage. It is good to know you’ve felt these things, too, and to see how they have both helped and hindered you.” –Anderson Cooper

If you’re reading this book to learn details about Anderson Cooper’s personal life, you will be disappointed. Cooper reveals nothing about his personal life. This epistolary memoir is an email exchange between a mother and her apparent favorite son. Both famous, both privileged, both introspective and thoughtful. Gloria Vanderbilt, now 92, loved a lot and also has a successful art and fashion career. She’s well-read—constantly quoting various authors to Anderson—and comfortable with herself and her choices and mistakes and life path.

Vanderbilt is the notorious “little girl lost.” You’ve heard of that haven’t you? Have you visited the Vanderbilt mansions in Newport, RI? I told someone I was reading this book and she didn’t know that Anderson Cooper’s mom is Gloria Vanderbilt. That’s not particularly surprising as Anderson maintains a high level of privacy. He built his own career as a television journalist. Yes, he graduated from Yale and grew up privileged in Manhattan but he’s clearly a hard worker and cares about journalism, exposing the truth and highlighting issues and telling stories that many might not focus upon.

Just because I didn’t adore this book, doesn’t mean I don’t adore Anderson Cooper. He’s a solid journalist and I listen to his show AC360 nearly every evening via podcast on TuneIn radio. In the introduction, Cooper writes: “Vanderbilt is a big name to carry, and I’ve always been glad I didn’t have to. I like being a Cooper. It’s less cumbersome, less likely to produce an awkward pause in the conversation when I’m introduced. Let’s face it, the name Vanderbilt has history, baggage.” Later in the book, Vanderbilt states: “As for you, Anderson, you have always had a fierce drive, a burning desire to make a name for yourself. For a long time I don’t think people even knew you were related to the Vanderbilt family.”

This exchange focuses mainly on Gloria Vanderbilt. Anderson Cooper wants to know some of the things that he never asked and now it might be appropriate as his mom is in her 90s. Vanderbilt discusses her childhood, revealing her difficult and tenuous relationship with her mother, who gave birth to her at 18-years-old. Vanderbilt lived with an aunt for the majority of her childhood and teenage years. But then there’s the bitter custody battle, perhaps for Vanderbilt’s money. Her mother spent much of her time traveling the globe and dating wealthy and powerful men. Like her mother, Vanderbilt married early and often and didn’t go to college.

She had four husbands [including her last, Anderson Cooper’s father Wyatt Cooper], four sons [she and Anderson do not discuss her two sons from her second marriage, except in passing] and many lovers including Frank Sinatra and Howard Hughes. She always seemed to have a man in her life and why not although I think she realizes that in her younger years it may have been better to develop independence and confidence without a man. Two months after Anderson’s father, Wyatt Cooper died, Vanderbilt was already dating ex-husband Sidney Lumet. Later in her life—I think she said at 54– she earned great success with those Gloria Vanderbilt jeans. She also held many art shows. Vanderbilt proves it’s never too late to start a career.

Apparently during the court battle there were allegations that Vanderbilt’s mom was a lesbian. Vanderbilt writes: “In 1934, being gay was considered evil. It was a crime. Gay people could be, and were, arrested, imprisoned, and institutionalized.” Bringing it back to himself as he often does in this book, Anderson responds: “When I told you I was gay, it must have brought up a lot of your feelings about your own mother. It makes sense to me now. I remember the day I finally decided to speak to you about it. I was really nervous.” Vanderbilt’s response: “I rejoice that you are gay! It is part of what makes you the person you are, and I am so glad that you have found someone who makes you happy. I wouldn’t want you any other way, even if that were possible, which it most certainly is not.”

Cooper’s definitely close with his mom. They’re extremely supportive of one another. It’s a mutual admiration society! But shouldn’t mothers and children be like this? I wouldn’t know. I’ve never had a close relationship with a parent featuring unconditional love and acceptance as Cooper and Vanderbilt.  They convey admiration, empathy and respect of each other. Sometimes it seems too much. Too cloying. Too much applauding.

Cooper writes: “What is interesting to me is that you have always been able to keep going forward and at the same time have remained vulnerable. I worry that I have shut myself off to feeling, numbed myself so that I am not weighted down.” Vanderbilt responds: “You are a storyteller, and though you may wish at times that you didn’t feel pain, the fact that you continually put yourself in situations where you will, and where you can help others feel as well, speaks volumes about who and what you really are.”

Throughout the exchange, Cooper expresses empathy for his mom and her difficult childhood and poor relationship with her mother. Vanderbilt applauds Cooper. She tells him how much she admires him and loves him and thinks that he’s wonderful in so many ways. Sometimes it seems that they are quite self-centered—bringing each topic back to themselves– but this is their conversation which reveals their feelings and thoughts about past and present.

They’re quite different but also have many commonalities—particularly Carter Cooper’s suicide about 20 years ago. Also there’s money. Vanderbilt writes: “I wish I had known that the greatest gift of money is the independence it can give you. If you are lucky enough to have money, learn to hold on to it, but don’t be a miser, because it will shrivel your insides and start showing on your face in ways that will startle you.” Cooper says: “How many children of wealthy or accomplished parents have gone on to make their own mark?” Cooper apparently doesn’t have a trust fund and won’t inherit money from his mother. Both also feel they possess “the demon of rage.” Cooper says he’s fueled by rage. Vanderbilt states: “At best, I no longer agonize intensely as I did over my failings or the failing of others. I accept them. At worst, I have to admit that somewhere within still lurks a demon of rage. Age makes it impossible to put right the things that went wrong. There is little time left.”

The book has its moments. It is obvious that Cooper and Vanderbilt maintain a wonderful relationship. Take from it what you will. Every reader will find something in it that appeals to her. I’m surprised proceeds do not go to charity. At least partial proceeds. Neither needs the money.

–review by Amy Steele

 FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Harper.

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