“The Beauty of Living Twice” by Sharon Stone. Knopf. 256 pp. $27.95. Review provided by The Washington Post.
“Just make sure you keep getting up to bat, honey,” Joe Stone would tell his daughter when she was little. And bat she did. It took 12 years of acting for Sharon Stone to hit the big time, but success when it came, with “Basic Instinct,” was huge. Acclaim and award nominations followed for “Casino,” “The Mighty” and “The Muse.” A brain hemorrhage nearly killed her in 2001, but she recovered and then modeled for Dior. She’s raised millions for HIV/AIDS research and worked tirelessly to help homeless people in Los Angeles. She accepted the Peace Summit Award from the Dalai Lama in 2013.
Now 63, Stone has stepped back up to the plate with a candid memoir, “The Beauty of Living Twice.” While it contains some startling personal revelations, equally affecting is Stone’s warmth and grace, qualities that, by the end, feel quite miraculous. “I have learned to forgive the unforgivable,” she writes. “My hope is that as I share my journey, you too will learn to do the same.”
Her childhood was outdoorsy: concrete-pouring, barn-painting and treehouses. “I grew up hangin’ with the guys.” Her parents “did a horrible, beautiful, awful, amazing job.” There was laughter, there was violence. Although she had a difficult relationship with her mother, and her father sometimes beat her, she’s nostalgic for the blue-collar Pennsylvania of her youth: “There is still something about the sound of a screen door banging.”
Starting young, she was harassed: by a boy in the playground, her high school science teacher, her manager at McDonald’s. As a teenager, she had an abortion, the consequence, she suggests, of gaps in her sex education.
But, as she reveals here for the first time, there was another kind of trauma in Stone’s childhood, too. This, she writes, is the “brave time where we can and will say this out loud.” She and her sister were subjected to repeated sexual abuse at the hands of their grandfather, incidents that ended only with his death when Stone was in her teens.
The consequences were, naturally, devastating: “We lost a lifetime of love, of our family.” The details she presents, while vivid, are not prurient. And, anticipating the inevitable headlines, they come with a judicious reminder to reviewers and commentators. “Generation after generation,” she writes, “we will still be learning just how to talk about and deal with abuse without being abusive in our very discussions, sensationalistic in our interest, cruel with our concern.”
Like many survivors of abuse, Stone found it difficult to escape its control, even after her grandfather’s death. Only since she’s been able to speak to other survivors – and to her mother, who says she was unaware of what was going on – does Stone feel that she and her family can be “present with one another. The real brutality of that is that it is decades later.”
Coming out the other side: This could be the “living twice” of the book’s title. But living twice is also the liberation that comes from ceasing to chase some “idea that developed centuries ago.” It’s the growing primacy of Stone’s own truth, her increasing impatience with the old patriarchal order. It’s emerging alive from a major neurological event, despite a 1 percent chance of survival. “There is something that happens when you start over, live again,” she writes. “A kind of mystery unraveling.” The mystery, perhaps, of why we ever accepted things the way they were.
A compulsion to unravel – to demystify – drives her eviscerating portrait of Hollywood. “Many people ask me what it was like in my days of being a superstar,” she writes. “It was like this. Play ball or get off the field, girl.” She’s seen it all, from the petty (the line producer on “Basic Instinct” who called her Karen and reminded her that she was the 13th choice for the part) to the downright sick (the director “who wouldn’t direct me because I refused to sit in his lap to take direction”). Amazingly, it’s “the ones who have threatened to fire me if I didn’t put out” who are “the less violent trespassers of my personal space.”
But Stone doesn’t name names. “We are ready to sing a new story,” she writes, “and this now is how I am going to sing it.” Positive action; a road map. There are resources and guidance for survivors of sexual and domestic abuse. Writing with zeal and urgency, Stone argues for a stronger legal system, for rape kits on police shelves to be processed, for better training for teachers and pediatricians. Above all, she offers a hopeful glimpse of life beyond trauma. “Today, my mother and I are at the beginning of our relationship,” she says. “If I hadn’t finally stopped keeping this horrible secret, I would never have known her.”
“The Beauty of Living Twice” promises the possibility of improvement or redemption, of compassion and understanding, of living honestly. Stone dedicates the book to her mother, herself a survivor of childhood abuse, and suggests she might yet, in her 80s, be “the torch that carries the light for women of her generation who are no longer afraid to stand up and be counted.” It’s a hopeful, urgent message.
– Reviewed by Charles Arrowsmith, who is based in New York and writes about books, films and music.