Love Can Build a Bridge

December 03, 1993 at 05:00 AM EST

In 1985, Naomi Judd, the older half of the mother-daughter country-music duo the Judds, sat surrounded by her management team, fuming about a profile in the Louisville Courier-Journal Sunday Magazine. A year after America had fallen hard for the spunky redheads with the backwoods names and hardscrabble Kentucky origins, a reporter discovered that Naomi and Wynonna Judd were better known to their own family as the more urban-sounding Diana and Christina Ciminella. Furthermore, while Naomi had often talked about her poverty-stricken days making lye soap in a Kentucky mountain cabin with no TV or phone, she’d failed to mention that the cabin was a cottage named Chanticleer on an estate called Windswept, a virtual artist’s colony on the fringes of a college town. Naomi had grown up solidly middle class, with dates at the country club, and only later made a conscious choice to join other back-to-nature hippies in romancing the pioneer spirit. A friend called her Hollywood. Naomi’s handlers promptly realized the need for some good old-fashioned spin control. ”You’ve told so many different versions of your (life) story,” one said. ”Let’s get it down and agreed to, so we’ve got one line we can put out there.” You won’t find that particular anecdote in Love Can Build a Bridge (Villard, $24), written with video producer Bud Schaetzle. But once you know it, it’s impossible not to think of it on every page. Especially since Naomi admits her fondness for embellishment early on. As a child, she says, ”I would exaggerate like crazy and my playmates would buy it nine times out of ten! I’m sure their confidence helped give me the courage to chase after some mighty big dreams that were to present themselves much later.” Courage, it seems, should be her middle name. She says that in the span of a few short years she had four different psychopaths-two in one month-try to kill her, one of whom, her heroin-addict ex-boyfriend, pinned her to the floor in a brutal rape. And not one but both of her daughters, at separate times, encountered child molesters. In its somewhat less melodramatic moments, Love Can Build a Bridge traces Naomi’s colorful upbringing among eccentric Kentucky relatives (including, she claims, a suicidal grandfather and a bisexual aunt and homosexual uncle) and her Scarlett O’Hara pluck in surviving as a single parent in California. She chronicles her return to Kentucky and the almost happenstance formation of the singing partnership, their remarkable superstardom, and the chronic hepatitis that forced her retirement in 1991. She wastes no time in telling the reader she grew up as the center of her family’s universe (”I knew in my heart I was the reason they lived and breathed”). And in case you were wondering, Naomi reveals the forces that shaped her world: her inability to coax affection from her father, her brother’s death from Hodgkin’s disease, and her teenage pregnancy and ensuing loveless marriage to Michael Ciminella, the son of a manufacturing magnate, now involved in the video business in Louisville. From the beginning, Naomi launches a sprawling narrative that is part music history, part romance novel, and part Judds’ Fairy Tales. (As the Queen of Everything, as Wynonna called her, Naomi had her own tiara and scepter on the bus.) Her story is heavy on self-mythology-lots of quoting good reviews-New Age mysticism, and holistic health tips. If it’s true that the book fetched a $1 million advance, rarely has so much been paid for so little. When she stops to share the spotlight with Wynonna, she does her no favors, portraying her oldest daughter as a deeply troubled teen (carving ”I Hate My Mother” on her bedroom wall with a butcher knife). In contrast, she offers mostly praise for her youngest daughter, Ashley, now a TV and movie actress. In short, the book is a mess. From Schaetzle’s outline and research, Naomi fleshed out events in her own prose, which usually resembles junior high blathering (”God stands for Great Out Doors”). Worse, much of the dialogue sounds straight out of a soap opera. When a doctor says her illness is terminal and tells her to come back in a week, she responds, ”Nope. You just shoved me out of an airplane at thirty-five thousand feet without offering anything to break my fall. I’m going to find a doctor who will give me a parachute. It’s called ‘Hope.”’ In any telling, the Judds’ saga is as extraordinary as their music. But by the end of Naomi’s account, the reader is bleary-eyed from wading through a vast swamp of useless information. What I’d really like to know is this: Just how much of this book sprang entirely from one brilliant woman’s vivid imagination? F

Love Can Build a Bridge

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Love Can Build a Bridge

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