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When Simon Doonan sat down to write a memoir, he discovered he had no memories of cuddly family times or romantic Hallmark moments — turns out most of his memories are notably nasty. Birthday parties? No recollection. But his mother's dentures flying out of her mouth when she sneezed and skittering across the kitchen floor? A vivid mental image that still brings a smile. In his subversively funny memoir, Nasty: My Family and Other Glamorous Varmints, Simon revisits his formative years and the defiantly eccentric,...
When Simon Doonan sat down to write a memoir, he discovered he had no memories of cuddly family times or romantic Hallmark moments — turns out most of his memories are notably nasty. Birthday parties? No recollection. But his mother's dentures flying out of her mouth when she sneezed and skittering across the kitchen floor? A vivid mental image that still brings a smile. In his subversively funny memoir, Nasty: My Family and Other Glamorous Varmints, Simon revisits his formative years and the defiantly eccentric, lovably odd family he calls his own, showing us how nasty memories can be very, very good.
Long before he became a celebrity in his own right — as a bestselling author, as a style arbiter on national television, and as the window display genius of Barneys New York — Simon Doonan was a "scabby knee'd troll" in Reading, England. In Nasty, he returns to the working-class neighborhood of his youth and chronicles the misadventures of the Doonan clan in all their wacky glory. Readers meet his mum, Betty, whose gravity-defying, peroxided hairdo loudly proclaimed her innate glamour; his father, Terry, an amateur vintner who turned parsnips into the legendary Château Doonan; and his grandfather D.C., a hard-drinking betting man who plotted to win his fortune by turning "wee" Simon into a jockey.
Fearing he would fall victim to the insanity that runs in his family or, worse, the banality of suburban life, Doonan decamps with his flamboyant best friend Biddie to London. There they hope to find the Beautiful People — those glamorous creatures who luxuriate on floor pillows and amuse each other with bon mots — and join their ranks. Instead, he encounters various ladies of the night, kidney stones, punks, law enforcement officers, phantom venereal diseases, public humiliations, and camps, vamps, and scamps of all shapes and sizes. Doonan continues his bumbling pursuit of the fabulous life only to learn, in the end, that perhaps the Beautiful People were the ones he left behind.
Infused throughout with good humor and informed by Doonan's keen eye for the ridiculous, Nasty reminds us never to take life too seriously. This is a wickedly good memoir from one of today's most dazzling literary humorists.
— David Rakoff, author of Fraud
"Beneath the hilarious camp writing in Simon Doonan's memoir, Nasty, I was touched by his wistful yearning for the life of glamour, glitz, and Beautiful People, which he ultimately achieved."
— Dominick Dunne
"At last: a childhood memoir that's about coming to terms with fabulousness rather than incest or binge drinking. Who knew that Simon — or anyone — could write about growing up in a gray corner of England with as much wit, charm, and dead-on smarts as he brings to his chronicles of the luxe life in Manhattan?"
— Graydon Carter
"Nasty is wickedly funny. Simon Doonan has an ear and an eye for sublimely bizarre details that will make readers laugh out loud."
— Candace Bushnell
"Fabulously entertaining ....Visionary fashion director of Barney's department store, Doonan (Wacky Chicks, 2003, etc.) is known for taking the ordinary and spinning it into the fantastic ... Doonan recalls the challenges of his childhood with love and respect and, where that isn't possible, bemusement ... A kick, a hoot, a truly wonderful read, with loads of down-and-dirty details about characters who are way more interesting that those dull Beautiful People Doonan was so all afire to find."
When I was six years old, my mother sneezed and her dentures flew out. They hit the kitchen door with a sharp clack! and then rattled sideways across the linoleum floor like a fleeing crustacean. I have absolutely no recollection of graduation day, or my twenty-first birthday, or what I did last Christmas, but as long as I live, I will never forget those fugitive dentures.
Am I strange? Quite possibly.
I was born in 1952, the same year that Queen Elizabeth II ascended to the throne. In 2002, fifty years later, Queen Elizabeth and I both celebrated our golden jubilees. Naturally, we both took strolls down our respective memory lanes. While hers was doubtless strewn with ermine capes, bejeweled accessories, sparkling crystal toasting goblets, and well-fed corgis, mine was not.
As I wandered through the windmills and filing cabinets of my mind, I was taken aback by what I found, and did not find.
Where were the Hawaiian sunsets, the Easter bunnies, and the fluffy kittens? Where were those dreamy summer afternoons spent chasing butterflies through fields of daisies? Had they slipped my memory? Or did they ever exist?
What about all those romantic candlelit dinners sipping Rémy Martin with that special someone? Maybe I was too sloshed to remember.
Though devoid of Hallmark moments, my memory banks were, I hasten to add, by no means empty. Au contraire! They were teeming with vivid recollections. It's just that none of them were particularly pleasant.
Instead of heartwarming memories, what I found were fifty years of jarring occurrences, freakish individuals, deranged obsessions, public embarrassments, kamikazeoutfits, unsavory types, varmints, vermin, and a ridiculous, lifelong quest to locate that mystical and elusive tribe, the Beautiful People. There were also hernias and food poisonings, cringe-making encounters with law enforcement, and stomach-churning regrets.
It was all quite nasty.
Woven throughout this tapestry, like a gaudy strand of hot pink silk, was my family, immediate and extended, in all its raw majesty. My mother, the feisty glamour-puss, my troubled and anarchic grandmother Narg, my blind aunt Phyllis, and Biddie, my showbiz-crazed childhood best friend.
Donning mental rubber gloves, I cautiously began to inspect this material and reacquaint myself with the events and the dramatis personae of my past. Here, preserved in aspic, were all the tarts, the trolls, the twinkies, and the trouts who had ever crisscrossed my path and left their nasty tire tracks on my psyche.
"Turn us into a confessional memoir!" they screeched like a goading Greek chorus.
My psychotherapist gave the thumbs-up. "Examining one's nasty memories is a complex and challenging psychological process," opined my shrink of eighteen years encouragingly. "Avoidance is a primary mechanism. Examining one's nasty memories and facing them head-on presents many opportunities for growth!"
Enthusiastically, I began to type. (At five feet four and a half inches, I am in no position to ignore any opportunities for growth.)
Revisiting my temps perdu proved both cathartic and entertaining. Sometimes I wept, but more often I chuckled. Before I was halfway through I had completely changed my attitude toward my nasty memories and nastiness in general. I now saw it for what it is: a vastly underrated commodity.
Nastiness is rich. Nastiness is fun. Who needs all that boring, cliché Hallmark stuff when you've got flying dentures? Nastiness has texture. Nastiness has the power to transform. Describing and embracing my nasty memories, as opposed to camouflaging them with baby's breath and doilies, has helped me integrate my past with my present and made me a more jolly and contented individual. I thoroughly recommend it.
By the time I handed in my manuscript I felt as if I had been the fortunate recipient of a massively purging psychological enema.
Hopefully my recollections will have the same effect on you!
Here, therefore, I proudly offer up, for your delectation, my nasty memoir.
Copyright © 2005 by Simon Doonan
Chapter 1 Tarts
Chapter 2 Fun
Chapter 3 Bleach
Chapter 4 Nuts
Chapter 5 Eyeballs
Chapter 6 Camp
Chapter 7 Guts
Chapter 8 Gifts
Chapter 9 Vermin
Chapter 10 Daughters!
Chapter 11 Pudding
Chapter 12 No Knickers
Chapter 13 Punks
Chapter 14 My Willie
Chapter 15 Hollywood
Chapter 16 Crevice Nozzles
Chapter 17 Blanche
Posted March 23, 2009
I didn't read the whole thing. I couldn't. I am so sick of reading how one-sided narrators/authors think they are. OK, you're gay, great, move on. I'm sure everything past chapter 3 is fierce and fabulous, but I was promised a book of terrible memories and horrible people and I found neither. The first five pages sets the tone of any book, and I did not feel drawn in whatsoever. It all felt self-involved and braggy/whiney. I didn't care about anyone in the piece, and I kept wanting something terrible to happen to someone, just for a moment of dramatic tension.
Gah! one star feels generous.
Posted October 10, 2010
No text was provided for this review.