June 28, 2006

DT Bizarre Book Contest: The Lonely Doll

lonely_doll.jpgTitle: 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.]

6 Comments

Not sure I can top that one...

aww shucks. i love this book - when i was a kid the photos fascinated me. i read it to my 2 1/2 yr old son last night and the night before. it seems about as weird and dysfunctional as your average fariy tale. but whatever - it might creep me out too if it wasn't so familiar.

Those interested should take a listen to the NPR story about the book: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=1067131

Ooh, I actually remember having this one. I don't remember sinister subtext, just that the doll was blonde and preeeeeetty.

I wonder how many other girls cut off their favorite dolls' hair after seeing Mr. Bear give The Lonely Doll that chic bob?

The episode I remember best is the one where the Doll digs up all Mr. Bear's tulip bulbs and replants them upside down. Analyze that!

oh my god, I totally remember this book, I bought it again for my daughter and even with more than a little psychoanalytic training could overlook the weirdness factor and get right back into it without skipping a beat! I was always envious tho' because I had curly red hair and my sister had blond hair. I never knew that stuff about the author! thanks!

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