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Lies My Mother Never Told Me: A Memoir
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Lies My Mother Never Told Me: A Memoir

4.2 14
by Kaylie Jones

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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


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.

Her mother was a brainy knockout with the sultry beauty of Marilyn Monroe, a raconteur whose fierce wit could shock an audience into hilarity or silence. Her father was a distinguished figure in American letters, the National Book Award–winning author of four of the greatest novels of World War II ever written. A daughter of privilege with a seemingly fairy-tale-like life, Kaylie Jones was raised in the Hamptons via France in the 1960s and '70s, surrounded by the glitterati who orbited her famous father, James Jones. Legendary for their hospitality, her handsome, celebrated parents held court in their home around an antique bar—an eighteenth-century wooden pulpit taken from a French village church—playing host to writers, actors, movie stars, film directors, socialites, diplomats, an emperor, and even the occasional spy. Kaylie grew up amid such family friends as William Styron, Irwin Shaw, James Baldwin, and Willie Morris, and socialized with the likes of Truman Capote, Norman Mailer, George Plimpton, and Kurt Vonnegut.

Her beloved father showed young Kaylie the value of humility, hard work, and education, with its power to overcome ignorance, intolerance, and narrow-mindedness, and instilled in her a love of books and knowledge. From her mother, Gloria, she learned perfect posture, the twist, the fear of abandonment, and soul-shattering cruelty. Two constants defined Kaylie's childhood: literature and alcohol. "Only one word was whispered in the house, as if it were the worst insult you could call someone," she writes, "alcoholic was a word my parents reserved for the most appalling and shameful cases—drunks who made public scenes or tried to kill themselves or ended up in the street or in an institution. If you could hold your liquor and go to work, you were definitely not an alcoholic."

When her father died from heart failure complicated by years of drinking, sixteen-year-old Kaylie was broken and lost. For solace she turned to his work, looking beyond the man she worshipped to discover the artist and his craft, determined that she too would write. Her loss also left her powerless to withstand her mother's withering barbs and shattering criticism, or halt Gloria's further descent into a bottle—one of the few things mother and daughter shared. From adolescence, Kaylie too used drink as a refuge, a way to anesthetize her sadness, anger, and terror. For years after her father's death, she denied the blackouts, the hangovers, the lost days, the rage, the depression. Broken and bereft, she began reading her father's novels and those writers who came before and after him—and also pursued her own writing. With this, she found the courage to open the door on the truth of her own addiction.

Lies My Mother Never Told Me is the mesmerizing and luminously told story of Kaylie's battle with alcoholism and her struggle to flourish despite the looming shadow of a famous father and an emotionally abusive and damaged mother. Deeply intimate, brutally honest, yet limned by humor and grace, it is a beautifully written tale of personal evolution, family secrets, second chances, and one determined woman's journey to find her own voice—and the courage to embrace a life filled with possibility, strength, and love.

Editorial Reviews

Janet Maslin
…a bright, fast-paced memoir with an inviting spirit. There is real immediacy to the family portraits…When an editor suggested deleting 350 profanities from the manuscript of From Here to Eternity, [James] Jones responded: "You know there is nothing salacious in this book as well as I do. Therefore, whatever changes you want made along that line will be made for propriety, and propriety is a very inconstant thing." His daughter has learned that lesson: she doesn't let propriety blunt her memories.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
Starred Review.

Accomplished author Jones (A Soldier's Daughter Never Cries), daughter of famed literary figure James Jones, has spent most of her life avoiding the twin parental legacies of fame and alcoholism. In this brilliant, touching memoir, Jones faces both head-on. Jones explores her life, from her childhood in France, surrounded by the greatest literary minds of the age, to her troubled adulthood, seeking a way independent of the great minds that sired her. Looming throughout is Jones's larger-than-life mother-charming, caustic and alcoholic. As Jones wrestles with her own alcohol issues, coming out sober and strong, her relationship with her mother (long in denial) continues to deteriorate. Absolutely addictive, this story of struggle and triumph is a joy to read, thanks to Jones's gift for handling dark material with humor and grace. A rare child of privilege capable of looking on herself and her family objectively, Jones has produced a memoir will be a treasure for fans of literature and literary memoirs, as well as anyone who's coped with alcoholics in the family.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Kirkus Reviews
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 cliche 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 afew 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. Agent: Larry Kirshbaum/LJK Literary Management
Colum McCann
“Unadorned, poignant and honest to the core, Kaylie Jones’ memoir is a light emerging from the shadows of a writing life.”
Washington Times
“Searing, brutally honest....What makes Lies My Mother Never Told Me such an uplifting book despite all the pain and turmoil it recounts is its revelation of how Kaylie Jones has matured as a person in dealing with her twin legacies, literary and alcoholic, and also as a writer.”

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.70(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.50(d)

What People are Saying About This

Colum McCann
“Unadorned, poignant and honest to the core, Kaylie Jones’ memoir is a light emerging from the shadows of a writing life.”

Meet the Author

Kaylie Jones is the author of Celeste Ascending, As Soon as It Rains, and A Soldier's Daughter Never Cries, which was made into a film starring Kris Kristofferson and Barbara Hershey.

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Lies My Mother Never Told Me 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 12 reviews.
GailCooke More than 1 year ago
We've often heard that privilege is paired with pain, and that has certainly been true in the life of Kaylie Jones, daughter of acclaimed novelist James Jones (From Here To Eternity, The thin Red Line). She writes with searing honesty, apparently wihholding nothing. nothing. In fact, at times the reader may think she reveals too much simply because it would seem that revisiting some things would hurt too much. Yet, in the end, after lancing these painful memories, releasing the poisons she emerges stronger than she had ever dreamed. Born in Paris she lived in a sumptuous apartment with her father, her beautiful mother, Gloria, and adopted brother, Jamie. The centerpiece in that apartment was an antique 18th century carved wooden pulpit used as a bar. To her father this was a great irony , his way of thumbing his nose at his Christian forebears, "...all of it-the hypocrisy, the sexual repression, and the beatings his mother had given him in the name of God." Gloria did not physically abuse Kaylie, yet she ravaged her emotionally telling the child, "You're a mean, spoiled ugly girl. You bore me to death. I can't wait till you grow up." When Kaylie did grow, there was more vitriol, "You're a whore, you know that? Your father would be ashamed of you." The verbal abuse never ended for as long as Gloria lived. Yet, among friends Gloria could be amusing, a well liked raconteur. She would hold court among guests which often included the world's literary lights such as James Baldwin, William Styron, Norman Mailer, Willie Morris, and more. Parties at the Jones apartment often lasted through the night, often ending only at dawn. There were few prohibitions in their household save one - no one saw or would admit that both James Jones and Gloria were alcoholics. Jones died of congestive heart failure when Kaylie was 16. She would remember forever sitting by his hospital bed and seeing "her father's green eyes clouding over." She dedicated herself to his legacy, read the books he had read, determined to better know the man she so loved. At the same time she wanted to escape her mother's contempt and become meaningful for herself, not as a famous person's daughter. That proved to be a tortuous path as early on she drank far too much, and in time was suffering blackouts. She was sleeping with the wrong people, and eventually married the wrong man. It was only after years of searching and self-recrimination that she was able to admit that she too was an alcoholic, and take her first steps on the road to recovery. For the most part, Lies My Mother Never Told Me is not a happy memoir. In a day when many bury their family secrets this book is remarkable for its candor, the author is unsparing of others and most of all herself. Many struggle in life but few as mightily as Kaylie, thus we find ourselves rejoicing in her victory yet saddened by what she suffered to achieve it. - Gail Cooke
LLoewenstein More than 1 year ago
Although this memoir is a complex exploration of alcoholism, anger and emotional abuse, the author never loses her sense of humor. Among other things, this is a very funny book. Inserted among the chapters are the hilarious anecdotes her mother, Gloria, told again and again. There is Gloria entering the wrong room in a Swiss hotel in the middle of the night and climbing, naked, into bed with an outraged German couple. We hear Gloria mangling a Portuguese accent to dissuade Shirley McLaine from calling her husband, and Lauren Bacall offering her dating advice in a world-weary tone. Jones is able to balance despair and humor so effortlessly because she maintains an objectivity rarely found in this genre. She has said that she wrote this memoir as she does a novel - laying out the scenes as impartially as possible and letting the reader draw his or her own conclusions. There are no excuses, monologues or preaching here. The prose matches this approach perfectly. It is lucid and fluid as a glass of cold water on a stifling night. Here is Jones describing the daily anxiety she experienced because her mother often forgot to make arrangements for her to be picked up after school: "When the final bell rang and we thundered down the stairway like a herd of antelope, I searched the faces of the parents and nannies crowding the echoing, vaulted outdoor hall that in the old days held the horse-drawn carriages, hoping to see my mother or Judite.. Now I had to wait, and wait, and wait some more as the last private taxis took my classmates home, and the janitors in their blue jumpsuits came out with their pails and mops and the headmistress and the assistant headmistress clacked down the stairs in their sharp suits and heels, briefcases in hand." It is this clear, even-handed voice that pulls the reader in so that we experience, at the end, the author's triumphant shattering of the cycle of alcoholism and emotional abuse. Walking alongside Jones as she finds her own path to a normal life makes one's own footing a little more sure.
BTConway More than 1 year ago
I wasn't prepared for how affecting this book would be; I became so emotionally drained at times that I needed to put it aside. Jones's story, though, along with her clear-eyed and lucid prose, is so compelling that I returned to the book before long. There is so much to this book. There is the nightmare of uncontrolled alcohol addiction and the damage and pain it visits upon those around the addict, but there are also heartening examples of friendship, love, honor, and courage. Further, I found more than one or two out-loud laughs during my reading. What I take away from it, in the end, is the importance of recognizing the preciousness of life and the courage required to live it well. I'm glad I read it.
JGreenstein More than 1 year ago
I could not stop reading this memoir, which tells the compelling story of the lives of novelist James Jones and his wife, Gloria Jones. Kaylie Jones' parents were the life of every party, staying up until morning in their Paris apartment drinking and arguing with their friends. Their young daughter, Kaylie, was lying on the couch under a blanket, watching and listening. She grew up to be a novelist as well, and an alcoholic. This moving story describes how Kaylie struggled with the death of her father when she was 16, and began to fight back against the insults and belittling comments her mother flung her way. The book is full of fascinating stories about the family's famous friends, like Lauren Bacall, Frank Sinatra and William Styron. But the true story is Kaylie's fight to turn her life around, stop drinking and break away from her mother. A gripping read.
Barbara_Taylor More than 1 year ago
"When I was little my mother often told me, 'If I had to pick between having your father or having you, I would pick your father.'" And so begins a memoir so poignant, so haunting, and ultimately, so full of grace, that I came away from the experience with renewed hope. In LIES MY MOTHER NEVER TOLD ME, Kaylie Jones offers her readers an honest, unsentimental glimpse into a world of literary celebrity, where both glamour and anguish reside. Jones's memoir is one of triumph, particularly, but not exclusively over alcoholism. Fortunately for us, she manages to tell her story (and that of her father James Jones, author of FROM HERE TO ETERNITY) without judgment. And considering the seriousness of the subject matter, I was surprised at how often I laughed out loud while reading the book. LIES MY MOTHER NEVER TOLD ME is a memoir for our times and destined to be a bestseller.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
If you love seeing inside other people's lives - especially famous people - you'll enjoy this. Kaylie Jones's wonderful style of writing mixes humor with startling reality as she describes growing up in Paris and NY with two famous parents.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Amani Abubakr More than 1 year ago
This book was ok not very good writing the plot was ok
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
twb47 More than 1 year ago
The author's writing of her struggles with her mother could be of help to thousands of adult children of alcoholics. Although the memoir is appealing in itself, I believe it could especially benefit ACOA members or their familes.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago