1/23/13

Chanel Bonfire: Talk about your dysfunctional mother-daughter stories

I'm in a memoir phase these days, and I want to tell you about two I've read recently.

Wendy Lawless's Chanel Bonfire is full of dysfunctional beautiful people with money. In particular, it's about Lawless's mentally unbalanced and social climbing (and then falling) mother, who definitely showed her daughters the high-life while treating them like a cheap pair of earrings.

I also read Dinah Lenney's Bigger than Life, in which she tells the story of her wealthy father and both her difficult relationship with him and her even more difficult challenge of dealing with his murder by a former employee.

I liked Chanel Bonfire better. Frankly, it is a train wreck of dysfunction. It is hard to look away. But Lenney narrative aims for a more difficult task (balancing the two different pasts she is trying to make sense of), and I respect that she tries to do something very hard.

Both books make you wonder about why we love stories about beautiful, monied people behaving badly. The easy answer is that we want to convince ourselves we're better off without the burden of wealth. I actually think Edith Wharton got it right. It's not so much the money that undoes us. It's the way that money can make some people--especially beautiful women--commodify themselves.  Or as the Eagles said, "City girls just seem to find out early, how to open doors with just a smile."

12 comments:

Tony Van Helsing said...

Good point. There must be an element of jealousy in wanting to see the wealthy being ultimately miserable.

Olga said...

I have read a couple of memoirs lately, but it seems I pick more the growing up in poverty with dysfunctional families. Sometimes I dispair about having anything to write about because I didn't grow up in a dysfuntional family. Oh, wait a minute...

Daisy said...

Disfunction? I got disfunction! Makes life interesting! At least, now that I've hit my 70's I have less hang-ups and fear. :-)

Desiree said...

I look forward to checking it out. A favorite memoir of mine is "Castles Burning" by Magda Denes-
Just when you thought you'd read enough holocaust survival, this story of a little girl sucks you right in. And "Glass Castle." Wait, maybe we just enjoy suffering. I mean, watching OTHER people suffer--

Pasadena Adjacent said...

I belong in Desiree's camp. I failed San Marino 1A

Petrea Burchard said...

I like good memoirs.

I'd like to write one, and I've got good stories, but we weren't really rich or really poor. Middle-class dysfunction is so dull.

altadenahiker said...

Highly recommend Clive James. EB White. No significant fortune in either case.

Rois said...

I just read "Running with scissors" by Augusten Burrough.Made me feel so much better about my crazy hippie parents.Yet it left me a bit disturbed.

Ann Erdman said...

Much has to do with upbringing and sense of self. Hopefully the Paris Hiltons and Kim Kardashians of the world haven't set the definitive new standard for all wealthy young women to follow.

On another note, I gave "The Goddess Lounge" to my sister and my eldest daughter for Christmas and both raved about it! (I loved it, too.)

Margaret said...

Thanks for the recommendations. I look forward to seeing them. Des, I have already read The Glass Castle. That is compelling read.

Ann: Thank you very much! Both for your support and your kind words. I really appreciate them.

Susan Campisi said...

Like Olga, the last two memoirs I read were by writers who grew up poor and, coincidentally, both in Texas: "Lit" by Mary Karr and "Chinaberry Sidewalks" by Rodney Crowell. I kinda think dysfunction is compelling no matter what socioeconomic class. (Take heart, Petrea.)

Petrea Burchard said...

Thank you, Susan, that's heartening! I'll start writing. I have to wait for some people to die before I can publish, though.

We've got a good list here.