Wendy Lawless’s mother, Georgann, was a narcissistic drunk in designer clothes.
She could be charming and seductive one moment and horribly cruel the next. For all of the nightmare that was her childhood, Lawless turned out remarkably intact and tells her story with matter-of-fact insight, dark humor, and no self-pity. Wendy and her year-younger sister, Robin, lived what appeared to outsiders as an exotic, nomadic life. From the neo-gothic glamour of the Dakota in New York, to a “posh” flat in London, to Paris and Club Med getaways, Georgann felt entitled to and demanded the best.
Georgann’s own childhood, although materially privileged, was filled with abuse and at 19 she eloped with James Lawless hoping to escape.
However, she was seriously disappointed by the reality of marriage, particularly after two children in quick succession and limited funds. It did not take Wendy’s father long at all to realize how very disturbed his new wife was. Wendy tells of the time when she was around four years old that her father came home from work and found that Georgann had locked the girls in a dark closet for six hours. This led to Georgann’s first hospital stay.
When Georgann ran off with and eventually married a wealthy, successful Broadway producer, Oliver Rea, she must have thought her dreams had finally come true. Dior, Cartier, Chanel and Oleg Cassini notwithstanding, Georgann was no happier and she divorced Rea, reaping a tidy settlement in the process. So continued the hurricane that was Georgann, and her daughters were swept along in the storm. Summers with their father provided an oasis of calm. They got to wear play clothes their father bought for them, to swim, to ride bikes and just play with other children. When they would return home their mother would unpack and throw away all of their play clothes.
When Wendy was 10 her father remarried and Georgann truly went over the edge. Their father was no longer in their lives and Wendy soon realized that she and her sister were very much on their own. Wendy was devoted to her sister and acted as her protector, trying to shield her from their mother’s anger. The older the girls got, the worse their mother treated them and the harder Wendy tried to “be the dutiful daughter — always striving to do the right thing and make nice.” It rarely worked.
While there is certainly a degree of schadenfreude to be felt from reading about the dysfunction of others, particularly the glamorous and privileged, there is also admiration for Wendy and her sister — for their strength and courage to survive and grow in the toxic environment created by their mother.