Kitty Dukakis' memoir has a sad and ragged quality

October 21, 1990|By ANN EGERTON | ANN EGERTON,Ms. Egerton is a writer living in Baltimore.

Now You Know.

Kitty Dukakis with Jane Scovell.

Simon & Schuster.

313 pages. $19.95.

Cross your fingers for Kitty Dukakis. In "Now You Know," the wife of the 1988 Democratic candidate for president gives a graphic account of her struggle against drug addiction, alcoholism and mental illness. One can only hope that her road to recovery will be smoother than her history would suggest.

When "Now You Know" went to press, Mrs. Dukakis had just few months of sobriety to her credit. She had conquered a 26-year dependence on diet pills in 1982, but turned to alcohol after Michael S. Dukakis' defeat in 1988 -- not because of his loss but because she felt as if she had no purpose in life. In the short time since that election, she had three losing bouts with alcohol. In one instance, she disguised herself to buy vodka; in others, she drank rubbing alcohol, hair spray and nail polish remover when more conventional alcoholic beverages weren't available.

The narrative has a sad and ragged quality, especiallconsidering that Mrs. Dukakis has had more than her share of privilege and triumphs. Her father was first violinist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and associate conductor of the Boston Pops, and she was a popular and successful student. After a precipitate and unhappy early marriage, she finished college, met and married Michael Dukakis, and was an enthusiastic politician's wife.

As a mother of three and as a governor's wife, she still maintained her own identity -- in teaching modern dance, in adopting causes that were important to her, such as programs for the homeless, beautification projects and commemorations of the Holocaust, and extensive travel. She was always overscheduled and admits that she was running. There was the sense -- a sense that she has to some degree come to terms with -- in her frenetic life of emotional vacuum and feelings of "is that all there is?"

In the background of Mrs. Dukakis' troubled psyche is hemother, a reserved but exacting woman who made Kitty feel that whatever she did was never enough. One can infer that her mother, inadvertently or not, conveyed the "is that all there is" question to Kitty, hence her feelings of low self-esteem and emptiness and the drastic measures to fill herself up.

Mrs. Dukakis' maternal grandmother was the illegitimate child oa Hungarian Jew and an Irish boy, and was adopted by a wealthy German Jewish family; she did not learn of her true identity until she was an adult. Mrs. Dukakis believes that her mother's unresolved feelings of displacement affected their relationship.

She began snitching her mother's diet pills when her mother criticized her weight gain in college.

In my view, the book seems hurried and carelessly put together, with at least one mistaken date and an unnecessarily tangled chronology. Interrupted during at least one hospitalization, it appears a rush job to sell books while the fickle public is still interested in the subject. However, the book's structure, which darts off into different directions, reflects the frantic life of Kitty Dukakis, as she bounced from the campaign trail, to dancing, to pet projects, to Ireland to search for her roots, to Israel, to Outward Bound to hospitals -- too many hospitals. Husband Michael is a shadowy figure throughout the book; she calls him her "anchor," but he was having troubles of his own in the Massachusetts Statehouse and comes across as more perplexed and absent than anything else.

There are incisive comments on public figures, Jesse Jacksoespecially, and on the presidential campaign. What a shame that Mrs. Dukakis has not gotten greater pleasure from her front seat at history.

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