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Framed by fame

Linda Carroll is the mother of Courtney Love and the daughter of award-winning author Paula Fox. But she has her own story to tell.

January 16, 2006|Gina Piccalo | Times Staff Writer

LINDA CARROLL isn't famous, but it's impossible to frame her life without the strange and often cruel influence of celebrity.

She is Courtney Love's mother but has never spoken publicly about her oldest daughter. And her biological mother is Paula Fox, the award-winning children's author, esteemed literary novelist and memoirist. But Carroll, 61, now a therapist in Corvallis, Ore., didn't learn that Fox was her birth mother until a reunion in the mid-1990s that forever transformed her public identity. Suddenly, Carroll was more than the mother of a profoundly self-destructive rock star. She was the long-lost progeny of a brilliant writer.

As her book "Her Mother's Daughter: A Memoir of the Mother I Never Knew and of My Daughter, Courtney Love" hits shelves tomorrow, Carroll takes on yet another role, as a writer publicly staking her place in this unusual lineage. Hers is an intriguing mother-daughter story, provocative in the ways now required of a bestselling memoir -- cinematic with dysfunction and surprising twists, plus the added bonus of celebrity. It's also capably written -- making it, as Carroll's editor Kristine Puopolo put it, "a pretty irresistible package."

The memoir debuts just as the genre itself is being scrutinized and the public's fascination with dirty laundry becomes increasingly conditional. As the controversy surrounding James Frey's addiction memoir, "A Million Little Pieces," proves, it's no longer enough to bare one's soul in a memoir. One's soul must be marketable.

For Carroll, this has meant striking certain bargains. She says she was initially reluctant to put her daughter's name on the cover of her book; she spends much of the memoir distancing herself from Love's troubled personality and hasn't spoken to her in years. (Love, through her manager, Peter Asher, declined to be interviewed for this story.) It has meant admitting that she wrote the memoir, in part, to be "freed ... from all those questions" about her famous mother and daughter, then embarking on a book tour that will likely mean a bombardment of those questions.

And it has meant accepting the fact that while Carroll's children, other than Love, will talk about their family to reporters to help promote the book, Fox, who could lend literary cachet to the memoir, is far too private to participate. (Fox, 82, also declined interview requests but called Carroll's memoir "a very lovely book.")

Thus far, Carroll's bargains are showing signs of paying off. Though Doubleday issued a relatively modest print run -- 35,000 copies -- the early reviews have been respectable and media interest has been so strong that Carroll's tour has been extended from three to six cities.

Publicity aside, this memoir marks a significant milestone for Carroll. She's spent years on the sidelines of fame, watching silently as Love molded their family's story to fit her persona, often, according to Carroll, exaggerating and fabricating whole events. Fox told her own provocative tale of longing and loss in a much-lauded 2001 memoir, "Borrowed Finery," which ended with her reunion with Carroll. And now Carroll has her turn in the spotlight, for better or worse.

"Everyone has such an interesting life story," she wrote in an e-mail. "But mine has some very dramatic elements and represents so many different human aspects."

Setting it down

A lifelong diarist, Carroll always felt she had a story to tell. Her children grew up listening to stories of her time in Catholic school in 1950s San Francisco and her acid trips with Jerry Garcia in Haight-Ashbury in the 1960s.

In 1993, Carroll was approached by book agents after persuading her most famous therapy client, political radical and 23-year fugitive Katherine Ann Power, to surrender to authorities.

And she once proposed to Love that they write a book together -- an idea that Love quickly nixed.

But it wasn't until 2001, just as Fox's "Borrowed Finery" was published to critical acclaim, that Carroll buckled down to write her memoir. It was impossible to ignore Fox's long literary shadow.

"At first I thought I probably had some genetic prescription" for writing, Carroll said. "Then I read her books and I was so floored by her talent and skill and her clarity, it made me stop and think about whether I really wanted to take this on. Then I came back to: This isn't about her. This is about me."

Once the book was written, Carroll presented each person mentioned -- except Love and Love's father, Hank Harrison -- with pertinent sections to see "if it was something they could live with," Carroll said. Love wasn't granted this courtesy, Carroll said, because she had "not been accessible to have that kind of conversation for a long time."

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