Monday, August 17, 2009

Kaylie Jones Lies My Mother Never Told Me

Kaylie Jones’s new memoir , “Lies My Mother Never Told Me,” comes out this month.

The book is a brilliant gem. I read it twice, it was so filled with humor, insight and courage.

There are so many amazing stories that one immediately wants to tell someone else.

Her mother’s exploits will top most every “You won’t believe what my mother did” story. Once, Kaylie’s mother smashed her car through a truck that blocked her into a parking spot. She totaled her car, but drove on. Jones also shares intimate moments with many of the writers she knew, from her father, James Jones, to Kurt Vonnegut and Ron Kovic, author of “Born on the Fourth of July.”

Every storyteller’s child struggles to put together their own version. But James Jones gave his daughter the wisdom to see beyond anyone’s truth, to see both sides of a story. The encounters she chronicles can be divided into two kinds: someone fights to be right, or someone gives unconditionally. Those who fight to be right always end up losing more.

The title, “Lies My Mother Never Told Me” captures the way stories people tell sometime cover darker truths. And one can lie with silence.

The book shows that the only way to speak the truth is to speak with love. As James Baldwin says, “Love takes off the masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within.”

Ms. Jones found the courage to face her own secrets and deal with her fears, to work to become stronger. It struck me, in reading this, that it takes so much courage to make peace, and we must start with our own battles—lost or won. As the daughter of a writer who sought to chronicle the story of the common soldiers of WWII, she has taken his lessons and worked to speak out for peace.

The story of Kaylie’s well-lived life, her father, whom she lost as a child, and her troubled, brilliant mother reminds me of these lines from Roethke’s notebook, “Straw for the Fire.”

I live in a country

The land of the free—

Did I eat my mother

Or did she eat me?

Or was the devouring done mutually?

I cherish her image

When I look in the glass,

I was a true son:

Of the middle class.

But now shapes and shadows

Throng the stair and the hall

And I lie thinking

Nothing at all, nothing at all.

Outside, the slow winds

Move through the long grass,

Where my father keeps moaning

Alas, alas.