Thursday, May 23, 2013

Shocked: My Mother, Schiaparelli, and Me, by Patricia Volk. Alfred A. Knopf, 2013

When I picked up this book, I thought that the author’s mother was perhaps friends with Schiaparelli and that she had grown up with both women in her life. No, it turns out,, neither mother nor daughter ever met the imaginative designer- the only connection was that Audrey Volk wore Schiaparelli’s perfume ‘Shocking’ for much of her life. But when the precocious reader Volk was ten years old, she picked up her mother’s copy of “Shocking Life”, Schiaparelli’s autobiography. What she read there presented her with a version of womanhood that was diametrically opposed to that which her mother lived.

Audrey Volk was incredibly beautiful, smart, and personable. She excelled in school, married comfortably, had children and devoted her life to doing things *right*. Her life was full of rules: rules for how one dressed, rules for decorating, rules for how to have the right friends, rules of decorum. The most important thing, to her, was how one presented oneself, and protected oneself. Her friends never met each other, because, she reasoned, what if two of her friends decided to do something together and leave Audrey out? When this did happen, she dropped both friends permanently. There were no gray areas with Audrey. Patricia Volk, even from a young age, had problems with that. Schiaparelli- or Schiap as she referred to herself- was no classical beauty and relied on her talents to survive. Her life was colorful and she took chances- with her life and with her art. Her way of being a woman was diametrically opposed to that of Audrey’s. She didn’t wear neutrals or have monocolor rooms, and her friends were chosen to be exciting and interesting. Patricia Volk could pick the best from both her mother’s way and Schiap’s way. And she did have to pick, because neither woman was perfect. Schiap spent little time with her daughter; she sent her away to live & be educated, letting someone else bring the girl up. Audrey demanded strict adherence to her rules; once when Patricia spoke back to her, Audrey hit her in the face hard enough to damage a tooth to the point of needing a root canal.

The author switches around in viewpoints; she follows Schiap, Audrey and herself from childhood as they grow up and assume lives as women, but I had no trouble following who was who. It’s a fascinating exposition on having a narcissistic mother with control issues. I’m sure Patricia Volk could not have written this book while her mother was alive. It would have been the ultimate betrayal. 

The above is an associate link. If you click through it and buy the book, Amazon will give me a tiny amount of money. 

'Shocked' was given to me by the Amazon Vine program in return for a fair review.  

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