I’m excited to introduce a new weekly feature to Chronicles. My sister-in-law, Mamie Farley, an avid reader, has agreed to review some of the books she reads. Mamie has a way of finding great books that are off the beaten path. If you are interested in any book in particular, please let us know. Chances are Mamie has already read it!
“By the time Wendy Lawless turned seventeen, she’d known for quite some time that she didn’t have a normal mother. But that didn’t stop her from wanting one. . . .
“GEORGANN REA didn’t bake cookies or go to PTA meetings; she wore a mink coat and always had a lit Dunhill plugged into her cigarette holder. She went through men like Kleenex, and didn’t like dogs or children. Georgann had the ice queen beauty of a Hitchcock heroine and the cold heart to match.
In “a searing memoir that reads like a novel” (Anne Korkeakivi, An Unexpected Guest), Wendy Lawless deftly charts the highs and lows of growing up with her younger sister in the shadow of an unstable, fabulously neglectful mother. Georgann, a real-life Holly Golightly who constantly reinvents herself as she trades up from trailer park to penthouse, suffers multiple nervous breakdowns and suicide attempts, while Wendy tries to hide the cracks in their fractured family from the rest of the world.
Chanel Bonfire depicts a childhood blazed through the refined aeries of the Dakota and the swinging town houses of London, while the girls’ beautiful but damned mother desperately searches for glamour and fulfillment. Ultimately, Wendy and her sister must choose between living their own lives and being their mother’s warden—the hardest, most painful, yet most important decision each of them will ever make.”
I hesitate to label Chanel Bonfire as “another Mommie Dearest” even though the mother really is egocentric, unbalanced and ill-equipped to parent her two daughters, to say the least. What sets this book apart is the inclusion of the complicated relationship of Wendy Lawless, the author, and her sister. You can see the ripple effect of the mother’s instability and are awed by the normalcy that Wendy is able to achieve for herself, and works to create for her sister. I also enjoyed parts of the story that detailed Wendy’s struggles as a young adult; so often the end of childhood is the end of the road for these memoirs. Additionally it was interesting to follow this fractured family from one beautiful locale to another; destitute they were not. Finally I felt a healing of some sort for Lawless; this book produces a satisfying conclusion. Great read if you like memoirs with a bit of dark humor and family tragedy.