IN MY FATHER'S HOUSE: The Story of the Layton Family and the Reverend Jim Jones by Min S. & Thomas N. Layton Yee
Kirkus Star

IN MY FATHER'S HOUSE: The Story of the Layton Family and the Reverend Jim Jones

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Like Kenneth Wooden's Children of Jonestown (1980) this painfully honest account tells us more than most others about the People's Temple by showing us less. It offers a coherent slice of Jonestown's tormented life instead of the usual massive, messy coverage. Lisa Philip was a Jewish refugee from Hitler's Germany who married Laurence Layton, an archetypal WASP: hard-working (a gifted research chemist), intensely moral (a Quaker), slightly frigid. Two of their four children, Debbie and Larry, went to Guyana and survived the White Night, Debbie because she had escaped from PT headquarters in Georgetown six months before, and Larry because he was busy shooting people in Leo Ryan's party at the Port Kaituma airstrip. Lisa by that time had divorced her husband, donated all her property (around $250,000) to the PT, moved to Jonestown, and died there of cancer three weeks before the colony ""extinguished"" itself. The surviving family members have now collaborated with Ms. Yee and eldest brother Thomas in chronicling and trying to understand their miseries. Their candid confessions (how Jones raped Debbie, how he emasculated Larry by stealing his first wife and then his second, how the tragedy made their father cower like a baby in the bathtub, etc.) don't dissolve the mystery but they make it more believable. The PT half of the family all display the sort of loneliness, aimlessness, and upper-middle-class anomie one imagines must have propelled many of Jones' white followers into joining up. The book concludes with an extraordinary (and often hostile) review of its contents by the whole gang. Father Laurence is stoically self-pitying: ""Today sometimes I feel like the Rock of Gibraltar. Storms, waves, and currents beat against my feet; birds and monkeys defecate on me, they tunnel through me. But I'm still there."" Sister Annalisa and brother Tom are wounded but intact. Debbie sounds almost alarmingly detached. The events at Jonestown have yet to find their Mailer or Capote or, still less, their Hannah Arendt; but this simple, homely, understated version of them may be the best one now available.

Pub Date: May 4th, 1981
Publisher: Holt, Rinehart & Winston