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.
Read an Excerpt
Perhaps because her second marriage had only lasted twenty months, or perhaps because she was having a bad hair day, in January of 1969 my mother swallowed a whole bottle of pills and called my stepfather at his hotel to say good-bye.
Although they were still legally married, he had installed himself at the Carlyle while she sued him for divorce.... see more
Reading Group Guide
In this strikingly honest memoir, actress Wendy Lawless shares the often-heartbreaking story of her childhood with an alcoholic and suicidal mother—equal parts Holly Golightly and Mommie Dearest—and the extraordinary resilience that allowed her to rise above it all.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. Why do you suppose Wendy Lawless chose to open Chanel Bonfire with her mother’s first suicide attempt? What does this scene reveal about Georgann, as well as about nine-year-old Wendy and her younger sister, Robin?
2. When Wendy and Robin were children, Georgann told them about her abusive upbringing in the form of a bedtime story. Did knowing about her traumatic past make you more sympathetic? Why or why not? Do you think Georgann had any redeeming qualities as a mother? How do you think Wendy and Robin would answer this question?
3. Why did Wendy decide to contact her father after not seeing him for a decade? Given the circumstances, do you think James see more