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Kaylie Jones: A charmed life with a dark side

In one sense, writer Kaylie Jones has lived a charmed sort of life.

Lies Daughter of James Jones -- author of the celebrated World War II novels From Here to Eternity and The Thin Red Line -- she grew up surrounded by famous literary figures in Paris and Sagaponack, N.Y. James Baldwin carried her on his shoulders at a civil-rights march in Paris. Willie Morris took her brother to his first baseball game in the States. Not every encounter was comfortable: William Styron propositioned her after her father's death (she said no). A brighter moment: Years later, she and her husband were married by Peter Matthiessen, a Buddhist priest.

And yet, as her compelling Lies My Mother Never Told Me (Morrow, $25.99) reveals, there was a dark side to much of Jones' life. When she was 16, her father died of congestive heart failure, his condition exacerbated by alcohol. He was 55. Her caustic mother Gloria, an alcoholic, waged a particularly cruel sort of psychological warfare against Jones -- who was also plagued by the disease until she quit drinking in 1992.

``One thing people ask when I do a reading is: `How could you tell all this stuff? Aren't you embarrassed? Doesn't it make you feel exposed?' '' says Jones, 49, who lives in New York City and appears Monday at Books & Books in Coral Gables. ``And I say, `No, it doesn't.' Because it's in the past, and I've changed. I don't feel like I've got anything to hide.''

Kaylie In her memoir, Jones, also author of four novels, reconstructs the highlights and lows, touching on her family's past, her battles with the bottle and the increasingly difficult relationship with her mother. She uses some of her mother's favorite stories -- the tale about Lauren Bacall, Frank Sinatra and sympathy sex is a classic -- to paint a painfully intimate portrait of the once-glamorous woman with a difficult past who hobnobbed with the famous but was estranged from her daughter when she died in 2006 after a slow, painful descent into dementia.

Click here to read the rest of my interview with Jones, and see her at 8 p.m. Monday at Books & Books in Coral Gables.


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