CHANEL BONFIRE by Wendy Lawless


A Memoir
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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.

Pub Date: Jan. 8th, 2013
ISBN: 978-1-4516-7536-8
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1st, 2012


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