Reviewed by Rachael J. Hughes
Fiona Helmsley’s Girls Gone Old (We Heard You Like Books, August 2017) is a bold and brave memoir of a woman who confronted emergent and continuing female sexuality, addiction, and pop culture. It is a fresh and unique perspective on the state of our country in the 80s and 90s. Her references to music, politics, and the social strata of the United States is punchy, well-informed, and personal. Helmsley’s voice is likeable, brutally honest, and without self-pity. She is frank, yet poetic in her language about her life and experiences.
Readers will appreciate her attention to detail and the way she carefully weaves her life stories into essays that flow together with the confluence of tone and subject matter. Like Augusten Burroughs, Helmsley’s writing style sets a meeting place in your mind as if you’ve invited her for tea and she’s opened up about her life in a non-judgemental and conversational way. What’s most important about the content is how she reflects, with unabashed honesty, the way society, and women themselves, explore budding sexuality, addiction issues, and the harsh realities of life in the arts.
Each essay is predicated by an apt section title that prepares the reader for the content—as prepared as one can be—in her bold and brutally honest explication of self and of life. Further, the title is equally apt in its play on the subculture of society’s expectations of women and their sexuality. Readers who are unable to hear about the harsh realities of drug use, city life and hard social issues—this book is not for them. Helmsley’s frank discourse on substance use and abuse, diseases, domestic violence, and graphic language is part of what makes her writing unique and riveting, but it could be off-putting to a more sensitive audience.
A few relatable subjects, however, are the ones related to a family’s loyalty; the lengths of which include rescues from bad situations involving bad affairs, homelessness and promiscuity, are inspiring. This book is highly accessible to lovers of punk rock, sub-pop culture, and writers of any genre. Though her writing and language are frank and intense at times, I’d highly recommend this work to a mid-to-late teen and new adult audience. What happens to “Girls Gone Old?” How are they defined? Helmsley answers this question, as well as pontificating on the state of politics from the mid-80s to present time. She is able to weave the social issues of each time frame into a tapestry dyed in valiant colors that can be hung like a flag from an apartment balcony.
Her characters are real, colorful and raw. Through them, we see the picture of where Helmsley was in each era of her life. We get snippets of her empathy, sense of self, and her values.
Helmsley holds nothing back—but also casts it in a poetic and endearing light; this is a sign of good writing. Girls Gone Old is a highly recommended read that you won’t be able to put down.