I love NPR. I listen every single day on the way home from work. A few weeks ago, one of the correspondents did a brief 2-3 minute review of Patricia Volk’s book, “Shocked: My Mother, Schiaparelli, and Me” and I immediately had to look into it.
Those who regularly listen to NPR can vouch. When they recommend a book, band, etc… it’s worth checking out. Their recommendations are always on point. (See latest band I’m obsessed with thanks to NPR here: Wild Belle) So, I listened to this piece and ordered the book that night when I got home…
I finished in just a few days and knew immediately I MUST, MUST, MUST buy two more copies for Goose and my future MIL.
So, this book. Where do I even begin? First of all, it’s funny. I laughed out loud, smiled, giggled, smirked, rolled my eyes, and even teared up. I love books that evoke physical reactions. And this was no exception.
OK, so… Remember when you were pre-pubescent and you thought your parents were perfect people? I recall this time vividly and I remembering thinking, “Right. I’ll reach adulthood one day and then I’ll be a complete, perfect person like my parents. I wonder when that happens? Maybe at 18? 21?” I really did. I thought that maturing emotionally and mentally just happened at a certain age, and then you were done growing as a person. I thought that my mom’s way of being woman was the only way.
So, something always happens that jolts you into realizing that there is no perfect person, or one right way to be. For Patricia Volk, it was a transformative book, sneaked from her mother’s reading pile, “Shocking Life,” by Elsa Schiaparelli.
Volk’s mother was the very epitome of class and grace: beautiful, clean, polished… Very “buttoned up.” She was the hostess at Volk’s father’s restaurant in New York and had a core group of girlfriends with whom she would socialize. Schiaparelli, on the other hand, was not traditionally beautiful, but felt she could still turn heads with outlandish fashion and style, the great equalizer. (Think: a hat made out of a cheetah’s head, with jewels for eyes.) She partnered with artists like Dali and actresses like Mae West on various design projects, like jackets and perfume bottles. It was this book, and the following comparison between these two women that helped a young Volk see the humanity in her mother and no doubt helped her pave her own way to womanhood.
Each chapter begins with a quote from her mother and Schiap on one subject, be it lingerie, sex, money, etc… It’s laughable the juxtaposition of these two women. Two completely contradictory characters helped Volk find her way as a
person woman. Volk seems to incorporate the thoughts of a child with the tone of an adult who now knows better. Generationally-speaking, we are years apart, but there is relate-ability at the turn of every page. My mom is nothing like Volk’s mother, but there is still something intrinsically nostalgic about it.
I recommend this book for every woman. If you’re a daughter, you must read it. If you’re a mom, you must read it. It’s filled with sweet, funny, nostalgic goodness that is worth its weight in gold. In addition to the wonderful memoir, there are FABULOUS pictures. Volk will describe a perfume bottle, or map, or dress, or button, or necklace, or fur to a T! And then you’ll turn the page and there will be a wonderful picture of it staring you in the face.
Toward the end of the book, she mentions that she re-read “Shocking Life” in adulthood and realized that as a girl, she took from it what she needed, rather than really reading the book. (ie. It’s not great.) I, for one, am thankful she read the book as a child because it brought this amazing boo=
Anyway, HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY!