Title: Lies My Mother Never Told Me
Author: Kaylie Jones
Release Date: August 25, 2009
Publisher: WIlliam Morrow
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir
Rating: 4 out of 5
From the publisher’s website:
In her riveting memoir Lies My Mother Never Told Me, Kaylie Jones—the daughter of author James Jones (From Here to Eternity) and an acclaimed author in her own right (A Soldier’s Daughter Never Cries; Celeste Ascending; As Soon As It Rains)—tells the poignant story of her relationship with her famous father and her alcoholic mother, and of her own struggles with the disease. A true story of privilege, loss, self-discovery, and redemption, Lies My Mother Never Told Me is Jones’s unforgettable account of a not-quite-fairy-tale childhood and adulthood defined by two constants: literature and alcohol.
Lies My Mother Never Told Me is the memoir of Kaylie Jones, daughter of James Jones. I have a confession: when I picked up this book, I had no idea who James Jones was. Sure, I had heard of From Here to Eternity – it’s even on my list of books to read at some point. Of course I’ve heard of The Thin Red Line, though I didn’t realize it was a book first. Upon picking up this book, I quickly made the connection that James Jones was an accomplished and well-known author that I really should have been aware of previous to this.
I have mixed feelings about Lies My Mother Never Told Me. The first 100 pages didn’t really sit well with me. They were slow and weren’t very engaging. In fact, I was a little bit disappointed because I’ve been hearing so much about how this is a powerful book. But then, the entire tone of the book changed. Kaylie started focusing on herself and her mother, rather than her memories of her father.
I found Kaylie’s journey back from alcoholism very compelling. If nothing else, Lies My Mother Never Told Me really shows her inner strength; she really had sunk to her lowest depths, and managed to climb out of it on sheer willpower alone. I loved the parts toward the end of the book with her daughter, and with her karate lessons – they showed a strength of character that really shined through.
However, the most interesting, and at the same time the most devastating, part of Lies My Mother Never Told Me was Kaylie’s relationship with her mother. It’s such a damaging and bitter relationship – Gloria clearly suffered from some kind of depression, and chose alcohol as her method of coping. As a result, Kaylie was constantly searching for love and acceptance from a woman who was incapable of giving it. It was heartbreaking to read about the constant disappointments that Kaylie endured, always trying to give her mother another chance.
Normally, I feel like this would be frustrating in a memoir – after all, as Kaylie says often in Lies My Mother Never Told Me, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results. However, it wasn’t frustrating – to me, it was just sad. At heart, Kaylie was just little girl searching desperately for her mother’s love.
In the end, I thought Lies My Mother Never Told Me was a book worth reading. Kaylie poses a very interesting question in the book regarding alcoholism, one I am still thinking about days after finishing the book. She discusses the stigma of alcoholism, how her mother refuses to consider that either of them might be alcoholics because it seems to be a sign of weakness. While society pays lip service to the idea that alcoholism is a disease, there is still a disgrace associated with it.
“On an unconscious and primal level, the majority of us still feel that having an alcoholic in the family is a shanda. This is why the relatives continue to circle the wagon and try to hide the alcoholic’s drinking – and protect the family from public scrutiny and judgment.” – p. 170
I think Kaylie’s description is accurate, especially for previous generations. Even if most do accept the idea that alcoholism is a disease, I feel like there is still that gut reaction that it’s about willpower. It’s an interesting and provocative discussion, which is why I think this book would make a great book club selection.
Lies My Mother Never Told Me definitely is not for everyone. If you don’t like books with slow starts, this one definitely isn’t for you. If you stick with it, though, I think you’ll find that this a rewarding book that really will make you think about (and likely be thankful for) the relationships and people in your life.