Cover image for Molly
Jones, Nancy J., 1942-
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Crown Publishers, 2000.
Physical Description:
273 pages ; 22 cm
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"I have never had another friendship like that I had with Molly. One loves only once with such intensity and devotion." Inspired by the literary classic Lolita, this extraordinary debut novel is a richly imagined coming-of-age story about two girls in Illinois in the 1940s and their intense, erotically charged friendship, which endures even after one moves away and becomes entangled in a disturbing life with her new stepfather. Shy, intelligent, and fiercely loyal, Betsy Thurmont longs to shed her awkward reserve and be more like her best friend, Molly Liddell, a vivacious, dazzling girl who charms all who know her. They are a devoted pair, jitterbugging at the local soda shop, ice skating at the rink, taking a blood oath that they will never part -- until Molly's mother is caught up in scandal and flees far away with her daughter. Years later, Betsy comes into possession of Molly's diaries and learns the startling story of what happened to her childhood friend. Through her diary entries, Molly tells the dramatic story of her mother's marriage to a European scholar named Richard Richard, with whom Molly begins an outrageous flirtation. But, after her mother's death, this man uses her preadolescent seductions to fulfill his own ruthless desires. Heartbreaking in their honesty, Molly's diaries eloquently express how a bright future can be dimmed by circumstance. Guided by Molly's strong and resilient voice, Betsy reaches her own epiphany about the meaning of her dear friend's short life, and about her own place in the world. Molly perfectly captures the wonderment, longing, fear, and frustration of making the potentially dangerous yet exhilarating metamorphosis from girl to woman. This radiant first novel is also a loving tribute to Vladimir Nabokov and his classic work, invoking the spirit of the legendary Lolita.

Author Notes

Nancy J. Jones is the author of Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita: A Survey of Scholarship and Criticism in English . She lives in Wilmington, North Carolina.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Inspired by Jean Rhys' Wide Sargasso Sea, a well-done spin on Jane Eyre, this first novel by Jones is a retelling of Nabokov's Lolita from the playful nymphet's perspective. It's an above-average job, but not a masterpiece. Yet what we do get is worth the read. Here the culture of 1940s America is not seen through the eyes of Eurosnob Humbert Humbert, but through two preteen best friends dazzled by movie stars, soda fountains, and saddle shoes. Jones is not afraid to reveal Humbert (Richard Richard in Molly) for what he is: a selfish and conceited dirty old man who sexually abuses a 12-year-old girl. This is often forgotten in Nabokov's tale since the movie versions and Humbert's witty and charming style have romanticized the two "lovers." Jones gives Molly one of Nabokov's passions, collecting and studying butterflies, and overall Molly is much brighter and more creative than her seducer believes her to be. Molly is not for the serious Lolita or Nabokov scholar, but Jones does well in creating American culture and the bonds between girlfriends. --Michelle Kaske

Library Journal Review

In the 1940's, Molly Liddell is a girl in Illinois, playing with her best friend, Betsy. Years pass, her mother and father die, and her mother marries a European scholar named Richard Richard. Faster than you can say Humbert Humbert, we are in a Lolita-like world of cheap hotels, seduction, and heartbeat. Imitating a classic is always a risky move, and Jones (Vladimir Nabakov's Lilita: A Survey of Scholarship and Criticism) tries too hard to make the connection, even giving Nabokov a cameo appearance as a butterfly collector. Her book suffers in comparision - sparkling language and verbal wit are replaced by flat and unambiguous prose. But taken on its own terms, Molly is a moving portrait of a devoted friendship between two girls. Much of the novel takes the form of diaries that Molly wrote and that Betsy reads after her friend's untimely death. Full of period details, dreams, and desires, Molly's diaries show her strong spirit and resilient nature. For large public libraries.-Yvette Weller Olson, City Univ. Lib., Renton, WA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



How the lens of age transforms the vision. I am speaking not of the reading glasses to which I long ago surrendered, but of the quality of light that suffuses my days, lingering on each bronze expanse of wheat, the broad, blue reach of sky, illuminating the air itself till I am charged at once with contentment and expectation. The young are deluded in the belief that they alone possess life's essence, that all else around them is mere husk. I know, for I was young once, too. Growing up in the 1940s, I felt only the blandness of things. Charleston was like so many other Midwestern towns. Elms and oaks shaded sleeping summer streets, disturbed only by the shriek of children, the shrill r-i-i-n-g, r-i-i-n-g of bicycle bells, the slap of jump ropes on sidewalks. Even downtown, despite the allure of the sweet-shop soda fountain and Will Rogers Theater, held little enchantment. I loved to visit my father's law office on the east side of Sixth Street, to gaze at the shelves of gilt-edged books and pivot in my father's leather chair, but I grew bored by the succession of grocery stores and clothing shops and waited on one aching leg, then the other, while my mother selected a roast at the Piggly Wiggly, a Sunday hat with roses and netting at the Dress Well Shop next to Wolff's Drug Store. The land itself seemed to ache for more. In summer, cicadas droned in the trees, as if the leaves themselves were chanting some green and humid prayer for release. Other days, roiling clouds blotted out the sun, the air sparked and cracked, and lightning shattered the sky into desperate fragments. Then the rain cascaded down, pelting wheat and corn and soy, relentless and insistent, drowning out everything but the doleful boom of thunder, rolling, tolling its despair. In winter, when the sun rose late and low, snow blanketed the fields with silence, and the wind scoured the streets, whistling a discordant hymn that fueled my discontent. But there was more. The pain of the Depression and the shadow of Hitler had stripped the town of life and men -- which then, I thought, were one and the same -- and I shrank from a future of sewing circles, church suppers, and the mending, ironing, and canning that filled the days of so many of the women I knew. Even their gossip was a thin and flavorless broth like that our mothers made in the lean years when we often went without meat. It did not nourish; indeed, it brought on a wasting disease that ate away the spirit as well as the flesh. Molly Liddell felt the same as I. Together, we devoured every morsel from the outside world -- magazines, newsreels, radio programs, films -- savoring Elizabeth Taylor's triumph as National Velvet, Marlene Dietrich's victorious return from the front lines, Tom Mix's adventures in the Wild, Wild West. Our own lives, we knew, would unfold, petal by lustrous petal, somewhere far beyond the horizon. How could I have known our youthful longing, so strong at times it singed our skin, would lead to Molly's ruin -- and my own transformation? In fifth grade, Molly and I began a ritual. Every day after school, we traced the same route, from the college to town square, then to the park, or, sometimes, for variety, the reverse. As we walked, we plotted our escape, to California or Paris or New York. With the money we coaxed from our parents in return for dusting knickknacks, we swilled down cherry Cokes and daydreams at the Corner Confectionery on the square. Mimicking the high-school kids who huddled in the turquoise vinyl booths and fed the jukebox, we jitterbugged across the red linoleum tiles to the big band sound of Tommy Dorsey, convinced that if we twirled fast enough, we might, like Dorothy, not be in Kansas anymore. But I never dreamed that we might whirl apart. When we danced, we melted into a luminous being that outshone the sun. The floor beneath us vibrated, and I could feel the molecules of oxygen and carbon dioxide careening and colliding as we set them into motion. Afterward, panting at the counter, we spooned rivers of steaming chocolate and melting ice cream into our mouths. The boys in the booths eyed Molly and nudged one another. Even then, her high jinks charged the sugary air with static that set them off like Roman candles. She was slim and quick, and her short, flared skirt skimmed and skipped across her thighs as she swiveled on her stool. Molly knew the boys were watching her. Crossing one leg high over the other, she bent toward me, her breath sticky with maraschino cherries and mischief. "What do you think about him?" she said. "Shall I ask him to dance?" She nodded so the boy in question would know she was talking about him. Then, still flushed from our last dance, she slipped down from her stool, sashayed over, and tapped him on the shoulder. "Got a quarter?" she asked. He must have been sixteen, lanky and blond, with an Adam's apple that bobbed up and down in reply. He extracted some change from his jeans pocket and guided her over to the jukebox. Molly stood on tiptoe, examining the song titles, all the while running one saddle-shoe-clad foot up and down her other leg. She punched a few numbers, and he led her to the dance floor. I watched from my stool, tapping my feet on the rungs in time to the music. The boy reeled her in and out, putting her through somersaults and back flips, his hands now on the back of her legs, at her waist, beneath her arms, as he propelled her across the room and through the air. Once he boosted her up till she stood on his shoulders beneath the high tin ceiling. She arched her back, her unfurled fingers pointing toward the sky -- a fantastic creature of vapor and light. Then, sensing the indrawn breath of her audience, Molly leapt forward, into the waiting air. The boy held out his hands and caught her. She extended her legs into a perfect split, hovering in his arms for one infinite moment before jumping to the floor. I pushed away the rest of my sundae. Molly was my partner. I hardly knew as I watched whether I wanted to be in her place, so I could feel the rough hands of the boy against my back, at my waist, supporting my legs, or whether I wanted to be the boy himself, so I could be the one who lifted Molly to my shoulders and caught her in my arms. Perhaps I sensed then what it was that one day would take her away from me, that would separate us forever. The music stopped. The boy brought Molly's hand to his lips. She curtseyed, skipped to my side, and hopped back up on her stool, where Mr. Palmer, the sweet shop's owner, clapped loud and long. With a deep bow, he presented her a box of his house chocolate-peanut butter fudge. "Here," she said, rummaging beneath the lid with her sweaty fingers and handing me a slab. "We'll eat the rest tonight." She stuffed a whole piece in her mouth.I nibbled on mine, let the salty sweet crumbs dissolve on my tongue like a promise. The boy was nothing to Molly. It was I she loved, I who would spend the night whispering beneath her pink gingham covers. My world had only trembled; now it was solid once again. Excerpted from Molly by Nancy J. Jones All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.