The daughter of celebrated novelist James Jones weighs in with a loving portrait of her father—and a savage one of her alcoholic, caustic mother.
Jones, herself a novelist (Celeste Ascending, 2000, etc.), adopts a fairly routine chronology, beginning with her birth in 1960 and ending more or less in the present. Between chapters she places stories told by her mother—or about her—which reveal her as frank, eccentric, wacky, dyspeptic, unpredictable and cruel. As the memoir advances, so too do her mother’s failures and cruelties. She forgot to pick up her daughter after school, she said hurtful things (“You’re a whore, you know that?”), drank too much, lied, wasted money and acted outrageously toward all sorts of people, from literary celebrities to her own little granddaughter. Meanwhile, the author began to spiral downward, drinking heavily, sleeping with the wrong people, feeling insignificant and insecure and seeking psychological counsel. Perhaps in compensation, she continually quotes other people who told her that she’s beautiful, talented and intelligent. Jones eventually married good guy Kevin and had a lovely daughter, Eyrna, whose verbal ability, we learn, is “literally off the chart for her age.” In prose lathered with cliché and peppered liberally with evanescent epiphanies, the author seems to see God at one point, then takes up tae kwan do, progresses toward her black belt and becomes so proficient that even some rowdy teens on a Manhattan sidewalk step aside to let her pass. Jones denies the charge that she has enjoyed privileges because of her father, but the facts rendered here indicate that she has received substantial financial and professional advantages.
There are a few intriguing tidbits about her father’s social and professional circle—which included Norman Mailer, Irwin Shaw and Kurt Vonnegut—but most of the narrative is remarkable only for its rancor.