A Tale of Two Mothers

Book cover for Shocked: My Mother, Schiaparelli, and Me by Patricia VolkConcurrently telling the stories of her mother and Elsa Schiaparelli, Volk captivatingly compares and contrasts the two. Volk’s mother, Audrey’s main preoccupation was to be the exceptionally beautiful woman she was, even to the extreme of having a facelift in her 40s that severs the nerves on one side of her face which she effectively hides by teaching herself to force a reasonable facsimile of a smile. The less physically blessed Schiaparelli uses her intellect, creativity, and ambition to achieve phenomenal success in the world of fashion design. Having read Schiap’s biography at a pivotal age (11), Schiap became a sort of role model for Volk, a balancing point pitted against her mother’s influence. The lives of these two fascinating women offer two very different responses to what it meant to be a woman in the early to mid-20th century. Volk intersperses realia (receipts, maps, etc.), lists of her mother’s advice, historical photos, and her own art to illustrate the memoir. Volk’s evocative collages are deeply poignant, ironic, and humorous. I loved the artfulness of this book and Volk’s non-judgmental portraits of two iconic women.

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