Ivana Lowell’s new memoir, Why Not Say What Happened?, is one book that certainly lives up to its title. Lowell—a Guinness heiress and daughter of Lady Caroline Blackwood—says, among other things, what happened when she attended the 1997 Oscars with her then boyfriend, Bob Weinstein (he told her she looked like a “ridiculous old lady” in her Galliano fishtail gown, and ordered the hotel housekeepers to hack four inches off the bottom minutes before the ceremony); what happened when she underwent a pubic-hair transplant after a burn accident left her bare down there (her mother, who was meant to pick Lowell up afterward, had passed out drunk, stranding her at the doctor’s office in a post-anesthesia fog); what happened in the months following her 1999 wedding at the Rainbow Room, which was planned by social queen Mercedes Bass and featured in W (the marriage turned violent and quickly dissolved); and most significant of all, what happened when she visited a DNA specialist known for his regular appearances on Jerry Springer (she found out, at age 32, that the man she’d always thought of as a not particularly likable family friend was, in fact, her father).
Sitting at the kitchen table in her rambling, shabby-posh home in Sag Harbor, New York, Lowell—striking and rail thin, with a halting voice and upper-crust marble-mouth accent—says she didn’t consciously set out to reveal her darkest secrets and deepest humiliations to the world. Raised in a literary family (Blackwood authored nine books and was married to poet Robert Lowell, who unofficially adopted Ivana when she was six), she grew up writing to process her feelings, a practice that was encouraged during three stints in alcohol rehab. Two and a half years ago, a visit to a new therapist required Lowell to discuss her twisted family history, and, she says, the book “just sort of spewed out.” Uber agent Andrew Wylie, who had represented her mother, showed the first 50 pages to a few publishers, and, says Lowell, “They got into bidding, which was wonderful. Only now that it’s going to be published, it’s like, Oh, God!”
The book, out this month from Knopf, will no doubt raise eyebrows. Lowell spares few details in recounting her dysfunctional childhood, which was spent in grand houses and fancy apartments, where the family lived more like hillbillies than titled Brits. “I have a photo of me as a small child perched on an old broken sofa next to several defunct TV sets and other pieces of unidentifiable furniture,” she writes. “I look confused and out of place, as though I had just been dumped and left in some builder’s scrap yard. It is only when I look closely at the picture that I can tell that I am, in fact, in our drawing room.”