Novelist and memoirist Volk’s (To My Dearest Friends) sophisticated vision unfolds with the study of two very different but very glamorous womenher mother, Audrey, an upper-class New York domestic goddess with the looks and manners of Grace Kelly, and genius haute couture European artist Elsa Schiaparelli, whose book, art, and (yes) perfume forever change the course of young Volk’s life. As funny as it is poignant, Volk’s work employs a combination of words to live by, rich vignettes, and photographs to show how she learned what it meant to be a woman and how all it takes is one book to transform a young person’s world. Full of high fashion, mink furs, and family, the book manages to weave a tale that is sure to stick with readers long after the last page.
Verdict Perfect for anyone who loved Volk’s first autobiographical effort, Stuffed: Adventures of a Restaurant Family, or who enjoys the work of memoirists like Jeannette Walls or Grace Coddington.Melissa Culbertson, Homewood, IL
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The spirited account of how an encounter with a memoir by couturier Elsa Schiaparelli (1890–1973) transformed a young girl's view of what it meant to be a woman. Novelist Volk (To My Dearest Friends, 2007, etc.) adored her movie-star gorgeous mother Audrey. However, even as a child, she could never quite countenance the "blind adherence to the mystifying virtue of ‘seemly' [female] behavior" that Audrey demanded of her. She unexpectedly found another, more subversive model for feminine behavior in Schiaparelli, whose autobiography, Shocking Life (1954), Volk read at age 10. Like the author, "Schiap" was a much-loved child. But she was also one her parents "thought of as ‘difficult,' " who could never buy into the idea that there was "a right way and a wrong way" to do things. Schiap was no great beauty, something Volk also understood. Yet she still managed to create an enduring legacy as an avant-garde fashion designer with a genuinely artistic flair. Schiaparelli's remarkable story provided Volk the "shock" she needed to grow away from Audrey's certitudes--about everything from clothes to men to life itself--and into her own, unique sensibilities. If Schiap could be successful designing dresses that mimicked skeletal forms or hats that looked like shoes, then anything was possible for creative women who couldn't fit the pre-existing gender mold that Audrey both touted and exemplified. Generously illustrated with images from the two worlds Volk depicts--that of her family and of Schiaparelli--the narrative that emerges from Volk's deft interweaving of lives is as sharp-eyed as it is wickedly funny. Her attention to detail, especially in her evocations of 1950s New York, is nothing short of delicious. Witty, tender and vividly nostalgic.
“A visually evocative coming-of-age story about fashion, femininity, and the often complicated mother-daughter dynamic.” —Entertainment Weekly
“A brilliant, boisterous memoir that breaks new ground in terms of the memoir form and also the archetypal story of the mother-daughter bond. . . . I cannot tell you, apart from its other virtues, how much fun this memoir is to read. . . . Shocked is a physically beautiful book, but like Schiaparelli’s designs, it commands deeper attention because of the wit and originality that inspire its composition.” —Maureen Corrigan, NPR Books
"Inspiring. . . . A moving personal sesay about the female relationship to luxury and beauty." —Joan Juliet Buck, W magazine
“We feel life’s potential swirling around Volk as she lovingly chronicles the unique paths of her two muses. Volk ultimately embraces her mother’s love, but is now also able to break free, to see ‘the ripe kaleidoscopic pure pleasure of looking,’ Schiap-style.” —O, The Oprah Magazine
“A meditation on the plastic possibilities of womankind and a very special treat.” —The New York Times Book Review
“Delightful. . . . Disarming, eccentric. . . . Ms. Volk is thoroughly likable, warm and generous, with a well-tuned ear and a vivid sense of humor.” —The Wall Street Journal
“Warm, funny, sharp-eyed. . . . ‘Schiap planted the idea that imagination trumped beauty, that being different might be a virtue,’ Volk says. And that there is, after all, more than one way to be a woman.” —More Magazine
“Intimate and idiosyncratic. . . . Volk’s remembrances provide a breath of balmy air. . . . Shows us that a third-party mediator can reconcile our differences, reassuring both mother and child that the girl will find her own way in the end.” —Chicago Tribune
“[Volk] expertly juxtaposes the details of her family’s midcentury Manhattan upper-middle-class life with the life Schiaparelli was leading in Rome and Paris.” —The Plain Dealer
“Volk again portrays her family with great humor and love.” —The Jewish Week
“Exquisitely written . . . a compelling snapshot of the groundbreaking designer—and an even more fascinating insight into Audrey, a paragon of mid-20th-century New York style before the late-60s youthquake ripped off the armoured undergarments, released the shellacked hair, and exploded the image of the perfectly presented woman.” —The Observer (London)
“You have to be very grown up to write a memoir as wise as Shocked. . . . It deserves to become a classic.” —Kennedy Fraser
“This daring and irresistible catalog of the secrets of women cements Volk’s reputation as one of our most amusing writers. . . . If God is in the details, then this is one of the godliest books I’ve read in ages, because the details are priceless.” —Phillip Lopate
“[A] tour de force. . . . It’s a pure joy to be in Patricia Volk’s presence on the pages of her new book.” —Louis Begley
“Volk has a talent for unearthing meaning in the seemingly mundane. . . . This memoir is a compelling tribute to two ambitious women who were way ahead of their time.” —Publishers Weekly (starred)
“Nothing short of delicious. . . . Generously illustrated with images from the two worlds Volk depicts, the narrative that emerges from Volk’s deft interweaving of lives is as sharp-eyed as it is wickedly funny.” —Kirkus Reviews
“The contrast between Audrey and Elsa couldn’t be more startling or poignant . . . but parallels also abound, and through Volk’s history and memories, we get the best of both women and their impact on the author.” —Booklist