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Chanel Bonfire

by Wendy Lawless |

REVIEWED BY JUDITH NEWMAN

MEMOIR

Bad childhoods can be bad in any number of ways, but what they all have in common is uncertainty. If the question “What will happen next?” is the one you’re asking every day when you’re 9, you’re pretty much guaranteed a fraught adulthood. And so it was with Wendy Lawless and her sister. Would Georgann Rea, their beautiful, gimlet-downing, social-climbing mother, be taking them to Schraft’s today-or locking them in the closet? Where would they be living when they came home from school? Who would be in Mother’s bed? When she wanted to skip town, Rea’s idea of making it easier on the kids was to tell them their father had a new family and never loved them anyway. Her girls ruined her life, they were her competition, and they were also all she had. Lawless, an actress and essayist, leavens her harrowing story with biting humor and never descends into self-pity-but boy, do we feel for her and her sister anyway. Move over, Joan Crawford: This Mommie Dearest just might have you beat.

News from Heaven

by Jennifer Haigh |

REVIEWED BY HELEN ROGAN

STORIES

At the heart of these elegant stories is Bakerton, the depressed coal town Haigh created in her novel Baker Towers. Like its real-life counterparts, Bakerton has a fading Main Street, teens chafing to break away and families grappling with an uncertain future. The sign at a service station says “TOUGH TIMES NEVER LAST. TOUGH PEOPLE DO.” The themes are familiar, but Haigh uses well-timed plot twists to infuse them with bright new energy.

Backyard Parables

by Margaret Roach

REVIEWED BY MEREDITH MARAN

MEMOIR

In And I Shall Have Some Peace There, Roach chronicled her flight from Manhattan to a country home. Here, she mines her simpler life for tips both practical and philosophical, yielding a delightful hybrid: half memoir, half gardening guide. “A garden’s edges soften over time,” Roach writes. “My edges have softened, too-not just at the midsection … but more than that emotionally.” Even city folk will relate.

COMMENTS? WRITE TO KIM HUBBARD: bookseditor@peoplemag.com