A first-timer enters the let’s rewrite Lolita sweepstakes—and, hands down, doesn’t win.
Names have been changed to protect the guilty, so Lolita becomes Molly Liddell, Humbert Humbert is Richard Richard (Dick
Dick), and the actor Quilty (with whom the real Lolita runs away from Humbert) becomes, with piercing originality, William
Tennessee. As did Pia Pena in the recent Lo, Jones draws on her verbally gifted nymphet’s diaries, using these to let Molly tell
her own tale. The diary-story begins in 1946, when, aged 11 and under the wing of her bombshell mother, Molly is plucked up
from hometown Charleston, Illinois, and swept off to Ithaca, New York; it continues (after bombshell mother’s mysterious death)
through the familiar Dick Dick years of sex and abuse; and then ventures farther, to a post-Dick Dick marriage, pregnancy, and
(though not diarized) death through childbirth at the ripe old age of 17. Jones’s contribution to the Nabokov ersatz-canon seems
to be the arousing of sympathy for the abused Molly, and accordingly she frames "her" novel in the words of Betsy Thurmont,
Molly’s best and earliest friend back in Charleston. Betsy is capable of dampening the flight of almost any book if only through
her skills in melodrama (("How could I have known that our youthful longing, so strong at times it singed our skin, would lead
to Molly’s ruin . . . . ?") and transparently non-Nabokovian overwriting ("When we danced, we melted into a luminous being
that outshone the sun. The floor beneath us vibrated, and I could feel the molecules of oxygen and carbon dioxide careening and
colliding . . . . "). By the end—decades after her graduation from Harvard law—Betsy will find love, still indebted to the spirt
of her old friend ("Molly . . . had a radioactive half-life that continued to burn inside me").
A pathway of good intentions.