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Editorial Reviews Review

A Q&A with Laurel Saville

Anne Ford in front of the Spartan Executive airplane her father designed, 1937
Question: What was most difficult about writing this memoir of your mother’s life?
Anne Ford, modeling, circa 1950

Laurel Saville: This may sound strange, but I found it most difficult to write about myself. It’s not that I’m particularly private or guarded; I just didn’t think I, as a character, was that important to the narrative. But Bob Shacochis told me, "Without a daughter story, there is no mother story," and that piece of wisdom kept forcing me to put myself in there. Then, in the process of writing, I stumbled on something that was also helpful to me. When I was writing about my younger self, I naturally used my childhood nickname, Lolly, instead of my full name, Laurel. This other name gave me just enough distance to see myself as a character in a story, not as a confessor, and thereby allowed me to write more freely.

Question: The story covers difficult ground, but does so very lyrically and without sentiment. How did you find your voice?

Laurel Saville: Let me begin by saying that, as a reader, I’m not a big fan of memoirs. In general, I’m not fond of the voyeurism and, rightly or wrongly, I too often am suspicious about the motives of the author. I find the culture of confession that’s so pervasive these days a bit distasteful. Having said that, I am a writer and I have this story and I couldn’t escape the pressure--and desire--to make something of it. But I was determined to try and craft, in this era of reality TV and talk show emotional divestiture, a different kind of voice and narrative arc for covering this challenging territory. I wanted a voice that, instead of being confessional, simply took readers on a straightforward journey that
Anne Ford's maternal family, Vermont, circa 1932
allows them to have their own experience of these events and come to their own conclusions. Having said all that, there is another, simpler answer to your question: the voice is really just my own, and simply reflects the way I am in the world.

Anne Ford near the end of her life
Question: You did a lot of research for the book--what was that process like? What were the biggest challenges?

Laurel Saville: Well, first of all, there were not many people left alive to ask questions of, so that makes things difficult. But primarily it’s figuring out where to begin and what leads to chase. There are a lot of dead ends and you also worry that you’ve left important stones unturned. But when I did find the right person or contact, they were universally generous. I remember talking to a harried administrator in Utica, NY, and when I asked about my grandfather’s high school transcript, her voice instantly softened, and within a week, I had his grades in my hands. The owners and restorers of the Spartan Executive airplane that my grandfather designed were so kind to me. I wrote a note to a gallery showing John Altoon’s work, and a week later, I had an email from his widow. And of course, the stories and information from my mother’s cousin Alice, who is the voice of the final chapter, were invaluable. The book could not exist without her.

Question: You’ve written four other books and many articles on design, as well as short stories and essays. How was writing this book different?
Laurel Saville and Henry, mid 1960s

Laurel Saville: Content wise, the design books and Unraveling Anne have one thing in common: they are at their essence profiles of creative people andprocesses, and in the case of Unraveling Anne, also a creative time and place. But from a straightforward craft perspective, the difference really comes down to whether the work is fiction or non-fiction. In fiction, you make up what you need. Add a little drama here, create a character to move the narrative forward there. In non-fiction, you collect all these loosely connected bits of information and then you have to find a way to string them together into a credible narrative arc. It’s like making a collage or mosaic: you’re trying to create a coherent whole from parts you’ve broken apart from their native home.

Question: Was your family supportive?

Laurel Saville: I was concerned about their reactions, but it turns out I didn’t have to be. Some members of my family have chosen not to read it, one quibbled with me on a few points of memory, but everyone has let me know they are very glad I wrote the book. This, and the amazing responses I’ve received from a wide variety of readers, are both deeply gratifying and humbling.


"Saville creates lovely imagery and writes with introspection." --Publishers Weekly

"Riveting."--Chronogram Magazine

"A remarkable read." --Midwest Book Review

"[Unraveling Anne is] as unflinching an act of courage as you're likely to find in everyday life...Laurel Saville is capable of the gaze of steady, lucid prose that continually ascends to eloquence, wisdom, and, at the end of it all, compassion." --Bob Shacochis, National Book Award-winning author of Easy in the Islands and The Immaculate Invasion
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 244 pages
  • Publisher: Lake Union Publishing (November 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 161218085X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1612180854
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (163 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #271,241 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Laurel Saville is an award-winning author of numerous books, articles, essays, and short fiction. Her work has appeared in the LA Times Magazine, The Bark,, The Bennington Review, Ellipses, House Beautiful, POL/Oxygen, Room, Seven Days, and other publications. She holds an MFA from The Bennington Writer's Seminars and lives and writes near Seattle. She is also a corporate communications consultant, has taught at the College of St. Rose and Western Connecticut State University, and spoken at a variety of colleges and writing conferences including AWP, Pacific Northwest Writers Association, and the Whidbey Writers Conference.

Her memoir of her mother's colorful life in the midst of LA's arts and hippie heyday and her tragic decline to a murdered street person, "Unraveling Anne," won the memoir category of the Indie Book Awards and was a runner-up to the Grand Prize winner at the Hollywood Book Festival.

Her first novel, "Henry and Rachel", is a fictionalized account of her great grandparent's lives, loves, deceptions, and trials, which uses alternating, first-person narrative voices and actual letters. Booklist hailed "Saville's poetic, lyrical voice", and called it a "touching story," , and a "tender, poignant debut novel." It was also a finalist for a Nancy Pearl award.

Read and learn more at

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

48 of 57 people found the following review helpful By Author/Reviewer Geri Ahearn TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 29, 2011
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Once a beauty pageant winner, an artist, and a fashion designer. One woman who should have been given the opportunity to pass on the true meaning of success and accomplishment to others. Instead, her life ended in tragedy. A beautiful woman, a heroine who was found brutally murdered. How is it possible that the life of a shining star winds up living in the streets, suffering from alcoholism and mental illness? How can a child comprehend the tragic death of her mother as she copes with loss, horror, and sadness? Laurel Saville penned a touching, emotional and compassionate memoir, describing the heartbreaking story of her mother's life, and her tragic death. I highly recommend this endearing memoir to all those who had to face the loss of a loved one and trauma inflicted upon them due to tragedy, while searching for a guiding light on the road to survival. The author shares her personal experience with the world on how one can move forward, after living through a troubled childhood. One woman was defined by how she died, and one child was defined by what she survived. "UNRAVELING ANNE" conveys how strength and love can be the building blocks to a better life, after we find the answers to tormenting memories of a childhood, filled with chaos and danger.
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70 of 85 people found the following review helpful By Mr. August VINE VOICE on October 8, 2011
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Laurel Saville had a traumatizing childhood. Her beautiful mother, Anne Ford, was a creative, driven woman who was a model and fashion designer. She ruined her life with bad decisions, irresponsible men and total self-absorption. Ultimately she was destructive to herself and damaging to her daughter, the author of this memoir. Ms. Saville's book is a forthright examination of her mother's life and death.

The reader learns at the beginning of the book that Anne was found murdered in a burnt-out building in West Hollywood. She apparently lived as an alcoholic in this dilapidated hovel, taking in men for survival and maybe a little fun. It is a sad commentary that this extraordinary beautiful and talented woman succumbed to her demons and ended up in squalor.

Saville's journey to learn about her mother is understandable. I just was not that interested in the family or her mother. Saville, aka Lolly, made her point early on. She was the antithesis of her mother. She became a responsible person who could complete tasks and was not lured into bad scenes. Anne Ford's life, however, exploded through the very tenor of American life. She was an alcoholic for many years and could not and would not break the cycle. Her three children witnessed degrading situations and Annie was not generous with the basic needs her children deserved. She didn't feed them properly, get them to school or take any active interest in their well-being.

The chronology of Saville's memoir was sometimes difficult to follow. She would give the reader recollections when she was a pre-teen and later describe a 5 year-old's memories. Ann Ford's progressive alcoholism was consistent including the rages, forgetfulness and lewd behavior.
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31 of 37 people found the following review helpful By Linda York on December 5, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Unraveling Anne, by Laurel Saville, cured my reading doldrums! I had grown so weary of gratuitously gory who-dun-its and formula lady-in-peril paperbacks, that I had a stack of books started but abandoned. Unraveling Anne was recommended to me by a friend who warned that I wouldn't be able to put it down...she was right. Saville tells her story so skillfully, with a pitch perfect balance of raw facts and analytical distance, that the mood of the book never collapses into whining; a testament to her writing talent. Anne is not the only person unraveled in Saville's book, and I realize that I was left with no unanswered questions about anyone she introduced. Each soul is treated as deftly complex and with respect giving this book its richness and depth.
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25 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Hyde Park Doll VINE VOICE on March 2, 2012
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I would read for 20 pages and think OK I can stick with this but I can't. I have stopped and started more times than I can count. I don't care about this person. Her daughter is having a hard time and I see that but I don't see the fascination with her Mom. I find I am frustrated with this book. I have never not finished a book in years. Maybe because i am older and life is short and I can't spend the time with this book.
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Suzinne Barrett VINE VOICE on November 7, 2011
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Two and One-Half Stars

Upon reading this, you'd have to ask yourself "What's the point?" Underneath it all, I think Laurel Saville wrote this to get back at her mother. As someone who suffered a very similar relationship w/ my own mother, I understand the resentment. But resentment does not work as the basis for a memoir. A great memoir is built on some sort of redemption or insight. Unfortunately, this book offers little of either.

I did hesitate in pursuing this because I much prefer a well researched biography to the personal memoir. Memoirists abound these days, and as such their product has become rather redundant. Who hasn't suffered a bad childhood, abusive parents, alcohol/recreational/prescription drug abuse, divorce, mental illness or whatever? According to the memoirs being published these days, not too many people! And after a while, all these stories sound the same.

Okay, this book starts out ahead of the pack w/ the author's mother being an intriguing figure. The back of the book informs that Anne Ford (the author's mother) was a California golden girl who became a model and designer whose "success and charm were legendary." Really? Absolutely nothing in this book confirms any of that legend. If anything, the Anne Ford presented herein comes across as the mom next door who just happens to be a transient who drank heavily, paid little attention to her children and had a lot of boyfriends.

This book, even at a 219 pages, for me was "one long, hard slog." Okay, we get that Anne Ford was a horrible mother, but this book is relentlessly bleak, and there is no payoff. The reader keeps hoping. Zero humor coupled with no particular insight. Just play by plays of horrible times and even more horrible times that continued year after year.
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