A review of this book I read compared Georgann Rea to “Holly Golightly turned Mommie Dearest.” I was thinking more like Auntie Mame turned Edith Beale. I had trouble believing that this was nonfiction, a memoir of a hellishly mind-boggling childhood, but by the end I was right there with Wendy, hoping that she and her sister would turn out all right. I also felt sorry for Georgann, that no one intervened in the situation to get her help. Unfortunately, many families need help but aren’t getting it. Part of the problem is the lack of resources, but a great deal can be attributed to shame and secrecy of dysfunctional families.
The girls’ father was prevented by their mother from contact, telling them he wasn’t interested in them. Their stepfather did all he could do for them but finally couldn’t do any more. The emotional and physical abuse inflicted by the mother prevented them from reaching out to anyone who might have intervened. Wendy tried to hide the cracks in their fractured family from the rest of the world.
The book is narrated in the first person by Wendy Lawless, a moderately successful actress, Chanel Bonfire is provocative and affecting, sometimes humorous, and filled with sadness and loneliness. Wendy tells her story in a stunning, straightforward manner that is very moving.
Not many families face the same problems that Wendy and Robin did. Georgann is constantly reinventing herself as she trades up from trailer-park to penthouse, suffers multiple nervous breakdowns and suicide attempts. She manages to marry up, from a Guthrie actor to a successful Broadway producer, and went from a trailer to an apartment in the Dakota. She enjoyed the money, the social status, the alcohol, the attention, the men, everything but her children.
When her second husband had had enough, despair pervaded and nothing about this family was normal. Georgann had affairs with innumerable men and women, never finding what she wanted.
We learn that Georgann was abused by her wealthy adoptive parents, enduring many of the humiliations that she subjected her own children to later in her life.
At one point, Wendy began therapy and found answers to her situation. Her therapist helped her plan how to protect herself and set herself free from her mother. She became an actress and is married to a screenwriter and has two children. Her sister works as a freelance writer after graduating from Hunter College. They reconnected with her father who walked her down the aisle at her wedding.
Her mother was found dead in her apartment; she had been dead for four days.