Title: The Lonely Doll
Author/Illustrator: Dare Wright
Reviewed by: Marjorie
Holy moly, is this book freaky. It was originally published in the '50s, and features sinister (to me, though not to my four-year-old!) black-and-white photos and a dreamy, S&M-like feeling of dread and anticipation. We got it as a gift, and I started reading it to Josie without proofing it myself first ,and quickly wound up in that "oh crap, how the heck do I spin *this* because my kid is totally entranced so I can't stop but *gott in himmel* this book is insane" place.
The story's about a lonely doll (duh), Edith, who lives by herself in a beautiful house until a father-son team of teddy bears appears and moves in. The doll is perpetually terrified that they'll leave, yet provokes the father bear into punishing her. She gets into a box of human-sized jewelry and lipstick (whose??) and tarts herself up, then gets spanked by Mr. Bear in an unmistakeably erotic and Helmut Newton-esque manner. My daughter was enthralled. I was, uh, freaked.
And guess what? The book doesn't even TAP the freakiness of real life. According to Jean Nathan's The Secret Life of the Lonely Doll, Dare Wright was a beautiful former model (one of her gigs was for Maidenform bras) who had a symbiotic and obsessive relationship with her mother--also named Edith, like the doll. Dare got engaged but never married. and wound up spending her entire life with her mother--they slept in the same bed, had all-night costume parties a deux, took nude photos of each other. Edith took Dare away from her father and brother when she was a toddler; Dare didn't reconnect with her brother until her late teens, and that relationship too became sexually charged.
But honestly, you don't have to know any of the author's biographical deets to recognize that the book is WAY weird and unsettling. Apparently there were 10 Lonely Doll books, many of them involving spanking, anticipation of punishment, and frilly panties. Okay.
[here's a blurb for Nathan's biography of Dare Wright from the artist Cindy Sherman: "Although I never read The Lonely Doll as a child or saw Dare Wright's photographs, it's as if somehow I did. Nathan has done an amazing job to capture Wright's life on the page and to bring us into the household of one of the saddest dysfunctional families ever." -ed.]