Reading List March 2006

Mommies Dearest, Part 2

Top literary reasons why it sucks to have chic parents

(For reasons 1 through 5, see the January/February issue.)

6. They force you to become a smuggler … so if you happen to visit, say, Paris with them—and if, say, Mom is Carmel Snow, a former editor at Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar—be prepared to cut all the labels out of your new clothes and whistle “Dixie” at Customs. In her biography of Snow, A Dash of Daring: Carmel Snow and Her Life in Fashion, Art, and Letters, Penelope Rowlands insists that Snow’s three girls were well brought up. Indeed they were—only not by Snow. Want to know how a career woman can “have it all”? Live in the city, banish your children to Long Island and nannies, and drop by on Sunday afternoons (if you happen not to be traveling).

7. They announce breakups in a particularly crushing way … In Brooke Hayward’s Haywire, a wackily assembled but terribly sad recollection of her family’s propensity for glamour (childhood best buddy: Jane Fonda) and mental illness (both mother and sister killed themselves; brother Bill was committed), the beginnings and ends of relationships are marked by the strangest of statements. Her mother, the actress Margaret Sullavan, tells her children that her divorce from Leland Hayward must be treated “just like going to the bathroom; it’s not something you talk to other people about.” Years later, Hayward Sr. takes Brooke out for her twenty-second birthday to proclaim his love for Pamela Churchill (later Harriman): “ ‘I’ve decided to get married again,’ he declared. ‘But,’ I replied, stunned, ‘you already are.’ ‘True,’ said Father. ‘First I’ll have to get a divorce.’”

8. They snarl at you when you fail to get them off-the-market Pepsi Lite, they give you fruit for Christmas, they turn you into a tool of Soviet propaganda, they try to involve you in joint suicide pacts, they tell you that you were an accident … Sean Wilsey’s sharper-than-a-serpent’s-tooth account of his San Francisco childhood, Oh the Glory of It All, is a hitherto-unimaginable catalogue of parental don’ts, and features the evilest stepmother since Cinderella. Bar none.

9. They spend Christmas bronzing their thighs in St. Tropez … while leaving you to open presents with your nanny and assorted staff at the Plaza. Was there ever a more neglected child than Kay Thompson’s Eloise (other than, perhaps, Madeline)? What kind of parent would let her child befriend a dumbwaiter? Answer: one whose presence in her daughter’s life takes the form, exclusively, of a person with lines of credit at Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus and rumored friendships with Christian Dior and Coco Chanel.

10. They don’t buy Pepperidge Farm Nassaus … and when you’ve slashed your wrists with scissors and are bleeding right in front of their noses, as happens to Daphne Merkin’s protagonist in Enchantment, they continue their phone conversation (in German!). The parents in Merkin’s 1984 autobiographical novel are not fabulous, but they are stinkingly rich and suffocatingly narcissistic. The thing with having fancy folks is that it’s always about them. No wonder their kids put pen to paper to finally have their say.

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Sally Singer is the fashion news and features director at Vogue.

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