Lawless continues the saga begun in Chanel Bonfire (2013), chronicling a lean young adulthood in the New York of the 1980s.
As anyone who was around will remember, that was the era of the scary New York, not the Disney World it has since become. There were porn theaters in Times Square, punk rockers on the streets (“the corner of St. Mark’s and Third Avenue seemed to belong to the Ramones—four hunched-over, pale guys dressed identically in white T’s, jeans, leather jackets, and black, high-top sneakers”), and lots of drugs and violence. As Lawless writes, cross the arch at Washington Square Park, and you were in “a gritty, nefarious world straight out of Serpico.” Even so, there were plenty of havens, and if the author’s world of film school, art openings, and barroom flirtations isn’t exactly an outtake from a Mary Tyler Moore sitcom, its poverty is largely genteel. (She had, she writes, just a couple of hundred dollars in her bank account. Back then, hardly anybody had any more than that, even in Manhattan.) Lawless writes with unlabored good humor of the scene-makers of the day, with some ruefulness of her trouble finding a sense of purpose and with plenty of affection for her early but decidedly minor successes as an actor on the off-Broadway stage: “I wore a blond Gibson-girl wig that made me look like Carol Channing and skipped around frivolously with a paddleball toy.” Unlike her first memoir, however, this installment lacks much of a center; where the first book had an unhinged but interesting mother as bête noire, this has only Lawless as ingénue, blundering through love and work and education as only a young 20-something can do. The author isn’t enough of an insider to have much good dirt to dish, and the book goes on too long by a third.
Harmless and heartfelt but inconsequential. It’s no Candide, no Candy, and certainly no Bonfire of the Vanities.