In this heartbreakingly funny memoir, Wendy Lawless details her childhood with her mother, a woman whose picture belongs in the dictionary next to the word narcissist. And the word addict. And substance abuser. And, quite possibly, the word horrible.
Lawless’ mother personifies self-indulgence. She whisks Wendy and her sister from trailer parks to New York City to London and back again, cutting their father out of their lives, and wreaking havoc on two very impressionable teenage girls. Swanning about in her blue pegnoir set (and I could just picture the marabou mules that I’m sure went with it), stinking of cigarettes and too much perfume, her mother tells the girls that if they weren’t pretty, she would have left them years ago. Two stories in particular stood out to me. In one, Lawless tells her mother that she has a crush on their lawn boy, and the next day, watches as she dons a halter top and short shorts and seduces the lawn boy in a tent in the back yard. The lawn boy is never heard from again. In another, it is her younger sister’s high school graduation day. Lawless receives a phone call from the school principal, asking her to “get down to the school right now”. When she arrives, her mother has driven her car across the lawn, up to the stage on the football field, and, dressed in her pale blue nightie, she is stumbling about the school grounds. When Lawless arrives, her mother hops in her car, drives off, and isn’t heard from for several days, when she arrives back home as though nothing has happened.
Lawless is a smart, funny writer with a wickedly sharp wit. There’s the old adage about how you can either laugh or cry, and she’s chosen to laugh, and to make us laugh as well. This memoir is horrifyingly sad, but Lawless never allows you to feel sorry for her. She is a survivor, and she has not only survived, but she has thrived.