Novelist Lois Gould pulls off an impressive balancing act in her memoir of life as the daughter of pioneering American fashion designer Jo Copeland. She unsparingly depicts Copeland as a distant, self-involved, critical parent ("I never perspire," she tells Lois. "Why must you?"), yet Gould is also sympathetic to her mother's point of view. The daughter of a garment jobber who nurtured her gifts but appropriated her earnings to pay for her brother's education, Copeland could escape only through marriage to a handsome cigar manufacturer. Unfortunately, Ed Regensburg found the talent and ambition he had admired in his fiancée irksome in a wife. He saddled Copeland with two children she didn't want, then moved out, leaving her to support them. Gould conveys the black humor implicit in her mother's horror of having her glamorous life spoiled by childish messiness--in one hilarious scene, Lois and her brother, sent to visit a friend's equally neglected son in the country so they won't spoil a fancy party, erupt into the living room, bedraggled from a long train ride, to announce indignantly, "Stevie Sondheim cheats!" She also appreciates Copeland's importance as one of America's first and best female designers (active from the 1920s through the mid-'60s). She was a pioneering career woman out of necessity and desire doing her best in a society that neither appreciated nor offered any help to working mothers. Gould's memoir is all the more poignant because it is clear-sighted and unsentimental. --Wendy Smith
From Publishers Weekly
Sixteen years after her mother's death, Gould (No Brakes) takes an intimate retrospective journey into her life as the daughter of Jo Copeland, America's first famous female fashion designer. Gould's smooth-talking, handsome father was the heir to the Regensburg & Son's cigar business, but her parents' marriage was deeply flawed and they would divorce when she was just three. According to Gould, in Copeland's "value system, a man like anything a woman was to be seen with, ought to enhance the ensemble." Her mother, who was famous for her elegantly seductive designs, felt that "sexy was wonderful, sex wasn't." There were reasons why Copeland feared intimacy, that distaste extended not only to her husband, but to her children as well. Gould's childhood reads like the proverbial poor-little-rich-girl story: although she appeared to have every possible advantage?beautiful home, cultural opportunities, travel and the best that money could buy?at heart this was a sad, confused, misunderstood and achingly lonely child. Neither of her parents ever attended a school play, assembly, PTA meeting or birthday party. While Joan Crawford and Tyrone Power were frequent guests at her mother's parties, Gould spent those glittering evenings alone. "[M]ostly I was confined to my room, supper at my school desk, facing the wall. While far away... my mother dined and lived with passing strangers." Gould's autopsy of a sad childhood on the outer fringes of that elegant world is portrayed with painstaking honesty that will be difficult for readers to forget.
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