Talking with Kaylie Jones, author of 'Lies My Mother Never Told Me'
NEW YORK — Kaylie Jones grew up in Paris and Sagaponack, N.Y., among celebrities and writers. Her father was James Jones, author of "From Here to Eternity." Her mother, Gloria Jones, was a charismatic beauty who became a fixture in the legendary Hamptons circle that included Truman Capote, Peter Matthiessen and George Plimpton.
Kaylie adored her father, who died in 1977 when she was 16. But her relationship with her alcoholic mother, who died in 2006, was often painful, as she recounts in "Lies My Mother Never Told Me" (William Morrow, $25.99). Jones, 49, has written five novels and teaches writing in the Stony Brook Southampton MFA program, which she helped found.
Q. Did you visit with your mother when you started teaching in Southampton?
A. In the beginning I did. She had a period of sobriety from maybe 1999 to 2001. During that time, it was really good for a while for us. My daughter was very little, and I would bring her with me. But when she was at the end, I had stopped going to see her, because I was afraid for my child.
Q. Your mother got increasingly violent?
A. At the very end, verbally, yes. She'd always been that way, but it got much worse. Other people had this mythical idea about her.
Q. She had a mythical element?
A. She was very, very beautiful. I didn't realize how beautiful until I watched some video clips that my father had taken when they were first married. I got them from the University of Texas at Austin, which has his papers. And I read her novel, which was in the papers.
Q. What did you learn from it?
A. The strangest thing about it is that it's written primarily from the point of view of her mother, whom she hated. She goes on about Gertrude, saying things like her daughter needs discipline and the only way to reach her is to verbally and physically abuse her into submission, and to deride her and make fun of her. I saw that and thought, that's pretty much what she did to me.
Q. You also write good things about your mother.
A. I was trying to show why somebody like my father would really go for her. And why she would be surrounded by luminaries, why people loved her.
Q. Were you afraid you'd be like your mother?
A. Absolutely terrified. The first thing I did, when I realized I was becoming like her, is I stopped drinking.
Q. Was the memoir hard to write?
A. I think it's society saying that you can't say bad things about your parents. My job is to tell you the story as I remember it.
Q. Did your background among writers influence you to write?
A. Susan Cheever says we're circus people. You learn the trade. I don't think I would have become a writer if my father had lived, though. There's a certain complacency when you feel protected. I lost that when he died.