Dolly: My Life and Other Unfinished Business (HarperCollins, $25), plucky, beautiful, dulcet Dolly Parton emerges as a nattering, cosmetically reconstructed gush queen with virtually nothing to say about her source of fame-music. Though the book gets off to a promising start-Parton describes her dirt-poor Tennessee childhood through charming anecdotes about her 14-member family-the story soon collapses into a shapeless curriculum vitae in which she thanks special and wonderful people everywhere for everything. And that’s before you reach the 10 full pages of acknowledgments, including ones to ”all airline personnel,” ”all concert promoters,” and ”all record company staffs.” All surely touched by the intimacy of her gesture.
As for the gossip Parton promises in her foreword, there is none, unless you count her rebuttals of tabloid allegations of sexual scandals. She does deliver the dirt on her husband, Carl. He’s handsome but stingy, reticent but poetic, and eschews the limelight while supporting Parton’s career. But — and this may explain Parton’s scattered suggestions of her extramarital affairs — ” he is not strong when it comes to my having problems.” She confides, ”I try not to argue with Carl at all. I always say I’m sorry, whether it’s my fault or not.” So much for Parton, the accidental feminist.
It gets worse. Parton’s amusing memories of her youthful vanity (she used Mercurochrome for lipstick and pokeberry juice for rouge) give way to obsessive references to her weight, and later, the declaration that ”yes, I have had cosmetic surgery nips and tucks and trims and sucks, boobs and waist and butt and such, eyes and chin and back again.” She lists six doctors who have worked on her and at one point asserts, ”It is not only a right but an obligation for a woman, especially a woman in the public eye, to look as good as she can. It’s like keeping up a racehorse or a show dog.”
What about the Dolly Parton who taught herself to play music on a mandolin strung with piano strings? Where’s the musician here? Dolly cries out for a coauthor, first to divert her from her tiresome diplomacy, then to flense the soggy spiritual advice and dieting tips from the book. As it stands, this is less a life story than a tinny, freeze-dried acceptance speech. C-