Reviews for Chanel Bonfire

BookPage Reviews 2013 January
Wit and candor in a daughter's tale

There are bad mothers and there are alcoholic mothers, and then there are bad, alcoholic, psychotic mothers like Georgann Rea. Add glamour, beauty and a rapidly dwindling divorce settlement, and you’ve got Chanel Bonfire.

A small-town blonde from Kansas City, Georgann married up and out, catapulting herself and her two small daughters from a Midwestern first marriage to the luxuries of life in New York and London. In doing so, she effectively kidnapped the girls, blocking them from any contact with their father and holding them hostage to her volatile moods, her drinking, her florid romantic conquests and her suicide attempts.

Older daughter Wendy tries to protect her little sister Robbie from the worst of it, but she can’t stop the destructive spiral of her mother’s rage: how she breaks their toys, locks them in a closet, flirts with their boyfriends and tells them they’ve ruined her life. A fortuitous connection with a therapist helps Wendy, even as the violence between Robbie and their mother escalates. Little by little, the girls raggedly break away from their mother, although physical separation is easier than mental detachment.

This miracle of a memoir is completely free from self-pity, and it’s surprisingly suspenseful. Written from the point of view of Wendy’s younger self, it unfolds for the reader as it unfolds for the daughters: with no clear resolution in sight. And yet it is clearly the product of a healthy retrospection, driven by a cinematic attention to detail, dialogue and scene. In writing Chanel Bonfire, Wendy Lawless has given up disguising her mother’s craziness in favor of telling the truth as clearly and objectively as is possible to do.

Copyright 2012 BookPage Reviews.

Kirkus Reviews 2012 November #1
The eldest daughter of a disturbed socialite details a 1970s childhood in the shadow of excess and mental illness. "Even half-dead, Mother was beautiful," writes Lawless, who, as a child, watched her mother suffer an intentional Seconal overdose. The author's dour memoir of life with Georgann Rea doesn't get much sunnier. Rea's premature, unsatisfying marriage to theater actor James Lawless bore two daughters and instigated relocations to North Carolina and then Minneapolis, where Mother melodramatically pronounced her newfound love for Broadway producer Oliver Rea. But he soon abandoned Georgann, leaving her to dejectedly stalk their apartment "in a diaphanous, white Dior negligee, smoking, with a glass of something on the rocks in her hand." The sale of their flat afforded the family a swanky Park Avenue address. However, as a swinging single, Georgann, a larger-than-life, almost cartoonish personality who hijacks much of the memoir's sentimentality, ushered in a new age for herself, Lawless and her sister Robin. She entertained nonstop bed partners, fired the nanny, alienated her ex-husband and generally showboated herself throughout the elite communities of Manhattan, Europe and Boston. The product of a fatally flawed role model who perfected the cruel art of "playing dead," Lawless and her sister miraculously matured and went on to live fulfilling lives amid Georgann's excessively reckless, grandiose attention-getting antics. Mother's "psychotic" diagnosis comes as no surprise toward the end of this melancholy narrative. Frequently entertaining chronicle of a daughter's sad, detached upbringing--but this story's all about the mother. Copyright Kirkus 2012 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

Publishers Weekly Reviews 2012 November #1

A dysfunctional mother-daughter relationship grows progressively worse with deepening alcohol use and emotional denial as depicted in L.A. actress Lawless's wrought and engaging memoir of growing up in the late 1960s. Lawless's mother, Georgann, was an orphan adopted by a wealthy, abusive couple in Kansas City, Mo., or at least that's what she recounted in moments of sadistic punishment to her own daughters, Wendy and Robin. Having left the girls' father, a Midwestern actor, for the glamorous older Broadway director Oliver Rea, who installed the broken family in the Dakota apartment building in Manhattan in 1968, then largely neglected them, Georgann lived off alimony and the largess of boyfriends, leaving the girls in the care of nannies and fancy schools. Georgann went from playing the Park Avenue socialite to Sloan Square glam girl, when they moved to London in 1971, to Connecticut Yankee housewife, when they relocated to the suburbs of Cambridge in the late 1970s, and the two sisters had to learn how to be resilient at new schools and in social situations, and, above all, to keep people from knowing the truth about their erratic, suicidal, alcoholic mother, who even lied about their real father and denied the girls access to him for 10 years. As the elder, the author acted as her mother's enabler and nurse, and with great hindsight conveys her early despair. Agent, Robert Guinsler, Sterling Lord. (Jan.)

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