A funny, poignant, and at times heartbreaking memoir about one mother and her love of beautiful objets — and how it ultimately proved destructive.
Being left with a strand of even the highest quality milky-white pearls isn't quite the same thing as pearls of wisdom to live by, as Karen von Hahn reveals in her memoir about her stylish and captivating mother, Susan — a mercurial, grandiose, Guerlain-and-vodka-soaked narcissist whose search for glamour and fulfillment through the acquisition and collection of beautiful things ultimately proved hollow.
A tale of growing up in 1970s and 1980s Toronto in the fabulousness of a bourgeois Jew-ish family that valued panache over pragmatism and making a design statement over substance, von Hahn's recollections of her dramatic and domineering mother are exemplified by the objects she held most dear: from a strand of prized pearls, to a Venetian mirror worthy of the palace of Versailles, to the silver satin sofas that were the epitome of her signature style. She also describes the misunderstandings and sometimes hurt and pain that come with being raised by her stunning, larger-than-life mother who in many ways embodied the flash-and-glam, high-flying, wealth-accumulating generation that gave birth to our modern-day material culture.
Alternating between satire and sadness, von Hahn reconstructs the past through a series of exquisitely impressionistic memories, ultimately questioning the value of the things we hold dear and — after her complicated, yet impossible-to-forget mother is gone — what exactly remains.