In her memoir, Rearview Mirror, Alana Stewart begins with the terrifying account of her rape at age eighteen. She keeps her attack a secret and moves to New York to begin her modeling career and continue a pattern of burying powerful negative feelings. Modeling success put her in the sphere of famous men, one of whom, George Hamilton, would become her first husband.
While the recounting of travel, parties and love interests is plentiful, the point of the book is her self-discovery and personal development. Stewart admits her insights and core change were a long time coming and that on the way she led what must have seemed an enviable life. But behind the iron gates and marble foyers lived a fragile woman who could not find lasting love or peace.
Stewart grew up in Texas, shuffled between her mother in Houston, who was addicted to drugs and of little help to her, and her grandmother, who lived in a two-room house without indoor plumbing. Her unstable early life would lay the foundation for her insecurities and frailties. Once in New York, her beauty and dogged determination afforded her entre into the world of high fashion but she wasn’t prepared for the inevitable rejections or the pressure to be thin. Depression and bulimia followed.
Stewart was no better prepared for marriage. Her relationship with George Hamilton seemed to work for a while, but financial problems caused friction, and Hamilton was a working actor and a tireless traveler. During weeks apart Stewart became suspicious and resentful. Once they had a child she became more isolated and unhappy and the marriage soon ended.
Rod Stewart, her second husband, is depicted as ungenerous, self-absorbed and cold. But even he might have been surprised by the volatility of his ebullient bride. Rock and roll rancor meets gnawing neediness; the combination was combustible. Alana could forgive Rod for denying her ownership in their homes and assets, but seethed and raged when he failed to return calls or be home when promised.
The book is arranged chronologically, organized by stages of her life: childhood, early adulthood, marriages, aftermath of marriages and healing. With so much happening: parties, travel, work, trouble, fighting, forgiving, you have ample reason to turn the page. While there are grounds to see Stewart as a victim, she accepts full responsibility for her life choices. She came to understand that more than the actions of husbands and others, her reactions dictated the course of her life.
Her three children and their difficulties are part of her story. While she welcomed motherhood, she apologizes often for not being more present for them. Stewart shares her many celebrity interactions but the book doesn’t read like gossip. For the curious, photographs that document some of these relationships are just an Internet search away. The charming, friend-to-all Alana is difficult to reconcile with the frenzied, furious wife elsewhere in the book. This dichotomy and spectacle is part of the allure and you are not disappointed.
The handling of time felt purposely vague. I became frustrated trying to put events on a timeline. Stewart’s diaries provided exact travel itineraries, which weren’t necessary. But this seems like a sincere desire for accurate reporting; there isn’t much filler here, Stewart has more than enough material for the book. Besides telling an engaging cautionary tale, she lays out compelling reasons to seek personal growth, whatever that might comprise for the reader.
In Rearview Mirror, the troubles and joys of forty plus years are compressed into 272 pages. It’s a wild ride. Like the fluctuating circumstances of Stewart’s life, you vacillate: one minute exasperated by her flawed thinking and self-destructive behavior, the next, awed with appreciation for her stamina and fortitude. It’s difficult not to like her and root for her. The personal wisdom she attains and peace she finally achieves, in time for the birth of her granddaughter, completes one more stage in a pedal-to-the-metal life.