‘Chanel Bonfire’ is a tale of growing up with a mentally ill mother who, I suspect, was incapable of love. Her entire life was about manipulating people and seeking adoration, even from children too young to understand. While she wasn’t a wire coat hanger wielding physical abuser (most of the time), she was the master of screwing with minds.
The beautiful Georgann Rea was an extreme example of Narcissism. Her life was one big illusion: that she was loved, that she was rich, that she knew the ‘right’ people, that every man wanted her, that she was young forever. No one was allowed to disrupt those illusions; if one did, they were cut out of her life. One of those disruptions caused her to run away to Europe with her two daughters, severing all contact with their father. Lawless would not have contact with him again until she was an adult. The girls basically raise themselves in a hostile environment. Sometimes the environment was quite luxurious, but it was always a minefield for Lawless, who had to police her every word and gesture to avoid setting off her mother. The two girls counted the days until they graduated high school and could escape.
This sounds like a grim read. In the hands of many writers, it easily could have been. But Lawless has a dry wit, and the book is riveting. I kept thinking to myself that Georgann couldn’t do anything worse, and yet she always did. What amazes me is that the girls turned out well- very well. Rather than damaging their psyches, it almost seems like the trials of their childhood made them stronger.
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