So, none of you guessed it (largely because none of you guessed at all), but the next book up is Wendy Lawless’ Chanel Bonfire. This is a memoir about the author’s rather insane childhood. Not insane because the author is one of those hyper ADD kids that runs away to a circus, but because her mother is, to put it bluntly, completely psychotic. We’re talking level 9 meltdown kind of psychotic. Lock the kids in the closet for 10 hours kind of psychotic. Drunkenly drive the car into the middle of her daughter’s graduation and then blame the police for making a scene kind of psychotic. It’s intense. And, if it was written differently, it would probably be legitimately frightening.
But what I like about Lawless’s style is that she understands just how ridiculous the events of her past are. She doesn’t look back on them with a morbid woe-is-me attitude (even though she would be totally justified to take that stance). Instead, she laughs. She makes little jokes, tells it like it is, and gives it a little magic. It’s really the best method to take with these traumatic memoirs too, because, in all honesty, it’s just not that fun to listen to someone complain for 200+ pages, even if they should be able to. So, for all of you aspiring memoir writers, take a page out of Lawless’s book.
My hesitation in recommending this book has less to do with its actual quality and more to do with its genre. Sure, the writing gets a little bit corny every now and again (stuff like little did I know it was only beginning…), but it’s such a personal story that I don’t really have a problem with some corniness. No, the real problem here is the same problem faced by all memoirs written by non-famous people—it can be hard to connect to a story without any prior knowledge of the person. A lot happens in these pages and there just isn’t a ton of time to hear about who Lawless really becomes. So you can put yourself in her place and see how terrible her situation is, but you never really get to know her beyond the realm of her mother’s madness. In the end, you get a remarkable story but don’t get great characters to go along with it.
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