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NewCityNet Not-So-Sweet and Lo

By Shelly Ridenour

MAY 8, 2000: 

Molly by Nancy J. Jones (Crown), $22, 288 pages

They say imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, but what if it's such a poorly constructed rip-off that the originator would surely be embarrassed? Such is the case with "Molly," Nancy J. Jones' cheaply florid take on "Lolita." Questions are begged, not the least of which is Why? And how fast is Nabokov spinning in his grave?

To quote the book jacket, "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." Jones' conceit is to tell the story through the unearthed diary pages of Molly (the one who, uh, became entangled), discovered by her childhood best friend after Molly has escaped the stepfather and given up her dreams of stardom for bland married life, only to die during childbirth at age 18. Other than that, if you know "Lolita," you know the story.

The single most interesting thing "Molly" manages to do is portray Richard Richard -- Jones' take on Humbert Humbert -- as the self-centered, sick old letch Nabokov intended, following the sexy, almost sympathetic shadow cast by film Humberts James Mason and, especially, Jeremy Irons. Among the author's particularly cringe-inducing original touches is a half-baked Sylvia Plath connection thrown in for no apparent reason (a country club maitre d'hotel tells Molly, "I have a granddaughter... who's going to be a writer -- Sylvia Plath -- remember that name"). Jones even manages to cast Nabokov himself in her pages (the author is a Nabokov scholar), as a fatherly pen pal who shares Molly's love of lepidoptery and who even lives in her old house in Illinois -- the home of happy, safe memories with her late father, the parent who really loved her and who never would've let such travesties occur. Hit us over the head, why don't you?

According to her bio, Jones lives in Wilmington, North Carolina, where "Dawson's Creek" is filmed, and perhaps she's been hanging out on the set; too often, her stabs at re-creating clever teen speak rings of the WB: "I am thinking of writing my own play, 'Life With Dick: Love's Luster Lost.' All about a girl who lost her virginity and never bothered to try and find it."

Cheaply florid, and about as likely to fool anyone as Designer Imposters perfume.

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