When you get kicked out of your sublet because the police come bursting through your door in the middle of the night searching for your fugitive subletter, your life hits an interesting crossroads. Do you try to find a place of your own, or move in with the boyfriend you don’t really love?

That is just one of the many dilemmas in Heart of Glass (Gallery Books, 360 pp., *** out of four stars), the second memoir by Wendy Lawless (Chanel Bonfire). The author, an actress, bounced around Manhattan and other parts of the country in her early 20s, jumping from film school to day jobs, from acting to acting school and back again. Her heart bounced around as well, as she entered and exited a series of passionate (and some not so passionate) relationships. Meanwhile the ghost of her unstable mother follows her from place to place.

The specific circumstances of Lawless’ life may be foreign to many readers (and not just because she lived in New York in the ancient 1980s with nary a cell phone nor juice bar to be found), but in broad strokes, she goes through what most women do at this point in their lives. There are a lot of questions, a lot of choices, and not a lot of definitive answers. There are plenty of adventures, but plenty of mistakes as well.

“Everyone, except for me, seemed to have something going on that enhanced his or her life in a major way,” Lawless writes in a passage explaining why she up and leaves New York to live with her formerly estranged father in Minneapolis — in February. It’s a choice. It has consequences. She lives with it.


Lawless has an engaging voice that transports the reader to '80s Greenwich Village or to an elite acting school in Denver that once had Annette Bening as a teacher. Her prose is lively enough to keep the memoir going even at its slowest moments (hey, everyone’s life slows down occasionally).

Heart of Glass (the reference is to a hit Blondie song) is peppered with jokes, not all of which land, but enough do to balance out somber elements of some of the author’s darker relationships. 

It is not necessary to have read Chanel Bonfire to follow Heart of Glass, although some readers may be gratified to know that there’s more to the story of the author’s mother, who lurks behind every good and bad thing that happens in Lawless’s life, ready to strike fear and depression at any moment.

Other readers may just be excited to read more from the author, who seems to have an unending number of stories to tell.