By: Judy Levin
Shocked: My Mother, Schiaparelli, and Me/
Do you have a “transformative book?” The one you read when you were 10, 11 or 12 years old that changed the way you saw yourself, that revealed the possibilities of an adult life different from the one you had seen modeled by all the significant women in your life up to that point? Patricia Volk found just such a book when she secretly read her mother’s copy of Shocking Life: The Autobiography of Elsa Schiaparelli, the iconic and influential avant-garde fashion designer, when she was just 10 years old. Volk claims this changed her life, because “Sciap’s” life story showed her that there were other ways for her to become an independent, successful, fulfilled adult woman besides following in her mother’s footsteps.
In Shocked: My Mother, Schiaparelli, and Me, Patricia (Patty) Volk tells us about growing up as a daughter of Audrey Morgen Volk. Audrey was deemed beautiful from the day she was born and her father literally got to his knees and pledged his love and adulation for this perfect baby girl. Adored and adorned throughout her childhood and teenage years, she developed her natural beauty and grace into a force of nature. Volk meticulously describes her mother’s routines of cleansing, moisturizing, make-up and dressing. Her rituals are absolute, no detours, no shortcuts, no changes. She models and instructs her two daughters to watch carefully, learn and copy.
Audrey’s rules extend beyond personal hygiene and dress into rules of behavior and etiquette, running a household, relationships and marriage. What is a daughter to do when these rules and rituals already look both unreachable and unwanted at ten years old?
On the other hand, Sciap, as Elsa Schiaparelli chooses to call herself, is already a renegade. She is a child who does not like her name, feels her looks and temperament, desires and behaviors do not match up to the standards and demands of her well-to-do Italian society family. Patty sees in Sciap’s story parallels to her own life that help her accept herself and then to like what she sees.
This memoir delights throughout even as Volk mines some sensitive territories and reveals uncomfortable details, including Audrey’s slap to Patty’s face, delivered so swiftly and precisely, resulting in a root canal and years of dental distress. She salves her wounded soul with comparisons to Sciap’s ups and downs as she also traverses a landscape where she is not always accepted nor celebrated in her family, community nor within the design world.
This memoir, as the genre demands, tells only the writer’s side, (so likewise Sciap’s own story). We never get the opportunity to hear Audrey defend or explain herself, nor do we hear from any other family member directly. The fact that writer, Patricia Volk, needed to write this view of her life, after a very successful family memoir titled Stuffed: Adventures of a Restaurant Family published in 2001, tells us that her relationship with her beautiful mother is still alive, regardless of the fact that Audrey is deceased.
Although a lasting love and respect for her mother endures, Patty definitely forged her own path to success as a writer, woman, sister and mother quite different from her own mother’s model. What Patty learns is that breaking the rules does not necessarily end up bad for you, but can lead to new discoveries and even success!
*Author Patricia Volk will be a guest presenter at the ORT America 2015 “Lunch With a View” book & author event.
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Judy Levin has been facilitating discussions with book lovers for nearly 35 years. With a teaching degree and an English major put to excellent use, Judy currently facilitates and moderates discussions for 30 groups including libraries, organizations and private groups. A life-long Chicago land girl, Judy is a daughter, wife, mother, and grandmother. Follow Judy on Twitter and Facebook and see what’s trending and newsworthy.