Catherine James has lived eight lives in 57 short years and her Dandelion: Memoir of a Free Spirit (St. Martin's Press) devastates with emotional sabotages that seem so outrageous that you swear you must be reading fiction. I read the advance copy in one sitting, blown away by the poignancy and ease with which Miss James shares her years of perilous plight. The abuse she suffers at the hands of her Hollywood femme fatale mother Diana reads like Mommy Dearest meets Piper Laurieâ€™s character in the movie adaptation of Stephen Kingâ€™s Carrie. Chapter after chapter she is left pummeled by another emotional battering from someone close to her. Even when sheâ€™s able to finally run away from tortuous reality, which is one of her early blessings, she encounters emotional hardships that rival any Iâ€™ve read or seen in film. Only her grandmother Mimi â€“ one of the few normal eccentrics she encounters â€“ is courageous enough to try to shield her beloved granddaughter from harmâ€™s way, although she ultimately loses her.
To say that she was trapped in a house ruled by a witch would be a gross understatement of the human condition. Her mother continually tortures her both physically and emotionally, whether itâ€™s tying her to chair or locking her in closet to keep four-year-old Catherine in line so that Mom might socialize on the town without worry. Or not feeding her and making her swill hot sauce or dishwashing soap for punishment. Poor young Catherine is not out of harm's way until she is finally able to run away from her forever. And not until the very end of the memoir is there any contrition from Mom, as though that would suffice the years, though Ms. James emotionally detached herself from her shamelessly narcissistic and destructive mother years earlier. She continually denies her daughterâ€™s safety in all areas of parenthood. Youâ€™d be hard pressed to find such abuses in todayâ€™s family courts.
Thankfully she is befriended by many wonderful and colorful characters along the way who help shine a brilliant light on her budding spirit, including such very famous folks as Bob Dylan, Jackson Browne, and Roger Daltrey, to name but a few.
From the musically charged â€™60s of Los Angeles to Andy Warholâ€™s Factory in New York to the swinging parties of London and back to the woodsy solitude of Connecticut, mature beyond years Ms. James crisscrosses America seeking solace in a tranquil corner.
Her unlucky-in-love character remains optimistic even when her life seems to be spiraling out of control. Time and time again you are certain the fates will finally cast a favorable light on such a courageous soul. But it is not to be.
Even as a pregnant teenager, she is able to rise above her condition and find the silver lining in a seemingly desperate situation. When Denny Laine, her son Damianâ€™s father, once of The Moody Blues, Ginger Bakerâ€™s Airforce, and Paul McCartneyâ€™s Wings, swoops her up, you think sheâ€™s turned the corner. But the physically abusive rocker only adds more heartache and pain to the young bruised beautyâ€™s tale.
Her supremely dysfunctional family will remain with you long after youâ€™ve finished this book. And her triumphant spirit will make most readers take stock at how petty most of lifeâ€™s seemingly unfair inequities might actually be quite trivial in comparison. Dandelion deserves to be picked from your local bookstore shelf immediately. - Dusty Wright
Mr. Wright is the former editor-in-chief of Creem and Prince's New Power Generation magazines as well as a writer of films, fiction, and music. He is also a singer/songwriter who has released 3 solo CDs and a member of the folk-rock quartet GIANTfingers. And before all of this he was an agent at the William Morris Agency!