Synopses & Reviews
How does a little girl find her way in a world where nothing is sacred?
In 2004, Tony Hendra's memoir Father Joe: The Man Who Saved My Soul, spent thirteen weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. The book detailed his life as a comedian who helped launch the careers of John Belushi and Chevy Chase, wrote for and edited The National Lampoon, and performed in such cult classics as This Is Spinal Tap, even as he overindulged in alcohol and drugs. But there was a glaring omission in his supposed tell-all confessional: the sexual abuse of his daughter Jessica.
After more than thirty years of silence, Jessica faced a harrowing choice. In this powerful book, she reveals how she came to the decision to publicly confront her father, sacrificing any hope of reconciling with him and setting into motion a New York Times investigation that shocked the literary world when it broke the story of abuse. But Jessica's account is neither a minor footnote nor an angry response to her dad's bestseller. How to Cook Your Daughter -- titled after a satirical piece her father wrote only a few months before the abuse began -- is an unflinching and unsentimental look at a childhood that never was, set in a time and place straight from the pages of the outrageous magazine that her father helped to create.
Against the backdrop of the 1970s New York comedy scene, the memoir traces Jessica's journey from a lost and abused child to a young woman struggling with bulimia and anorexia to the mother of two who becomes convinced that challenging her father is the only way to reclaim a life that never seemed her own.
"[Signature] Reviewed by Kathryn Harrison 'How to Cook Your Daughter' is the title of an essay written in 1971 by Tony Hendra for the National Lampoon. Like much of the content of that magazine, which Hendra would eventually edit, 'How to Cook Your Daughter' pushes the envelope of satire. A distasteful joke carried to an offensive extreme, it describes, in lewd detail, the toothsome flesh of a girl between the ages of five and six and how best to prepare her for consumption. Probably Mr. Hendra didn't intend his essay as a confession of incestuous longings at least not consciously but in appropriating his title for her account of the abuse she says she suffered at his hands, his daughter Jessica has managed to extract a measure of poetic justice. Jessica Hendra's response to her father's acclaimed confession of sexual transgression, Father Joe: The Man Who Saved My Soul (2004), is a 'my turn memoir' like Leaving a Doll's House by Claire Bloom, who set the record straight on Philip Roth, or What Falls Away by Mia Farrow, published on the heels of the Woody Allen and Soon Yi scandal. These he-said-she-said accounts cannot be read fairly, on their own merits, because they are rebuttals rather than independent works. Further complicating the would-be critic's position, the first to speak is typically not only a man but also the more original artist.So reviewing a book like Jessica Hendra's is a tricky proposition, requiring tact, sensitivity and whatever quality it is that allows one to rush in where angels fear to tread. Blake Morrison (who wrote When Was the Last Time You Saw Your Father?) has ghosted the book, making it better than it might otherwise be, presumably imposing the dependable form of unfolding two stories in tandem, intercutting the past with the present. The narrative shifts smoothly between Jessica's childhood with her self-sacrificing mother, her stoic sister and her charismatic, substance-abusing, philandering, volatile father, and her later life as a wife and mother coping with the aftereffects of having been allegedly molested by that same father. Born in 1965 to parents who did a lot of drugs, swam naked in front of the neighbors and frowned on establishment organizations like the Girl Scouts, Jessica Hendra says she has had to work to evolve into a functional adult. She comes across as earnest and likable, but even the help of a seasoned writer cannot make her memoir transcend its agenda. By now familiar with the territory the sins of unconventional parents visited on their children readers will come to Jessica Hendra for only one reason: to discover her side of the bitter conflict that erupted in the wake of her father's publishing an account of spiritual awakening that failed to acknowledge what she considers his greatest sin. Agent, Sterling Lord. (Oct.) Kathryn Harrison's most recent novel, Envy, was published in July by Random House." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"[An] excellent memoir....In gripping, straightforward prose, Jessica depicts her childhood among frenetically drug-fueled and rage-prone comics....A polished and touching piece of work." Kirkus Reviews
"Captivating, witty, and not self-pitying." Jane
"Riveting....[Hendra's] head-on confrontation with her demons is the ultimate story of bravery." USA Today
"Sharply written and absorbing." Library Journal
"The implication...is that Jessica would have gone along with the family secret forever, until her father wrote his pious memoir....After reading How to Cook Your Daughter, you can only feel stinging pity for father and daughter both." The Washington Post
"Though she's not as eloquent or biting as her father, Jessica Hendra's [memoir] reads well, and a passage in which she describes the abuse to her therapist, juxtaposed with her father's skit referred to in the book's title, made this reviewer's skin crawl." Philadelphia Inquirer
“Lucid and trustworthy . . . exemplifies the reasons for and the costs and rewards of a life intent on healing.” Christian Century
“Excellent . . . gripping . . . Uncommonly fair and evenhanded. . . . A polished and touching piece of work.” Kirkus Reviews
“Literature of moral power.” New York Times
From the daughter of Tony Hendra, bestselling author of "Father Joe" comes the poignant and ultimately hopeful memoir of a young girl's struggle to live a normal childhood in the chaotic '70s and to overcome sexual abuse by her famous father.
Her dad wrote bestseller Father Joe
– but left out a few things. This is the poignant and ultimately hopeful memoir of a young girl's struggle to live a normal childhood in the '70s, and to overcome sexual abuse by her famous father.
Jessica Hendra wanted the truth to be told about her father after the publication of his supposedly confessional book, Father Joe (4.5k sold through BookScan). Her story about how he sexually abused her sent ripples of shock through the media.
Readers will see these days through the bewildered eyes of young Jessica and her sister, Kathy, who cowered while the parties went on and on, who couldn't believe that the white powder in the fridge was cocaine and not baking soda, who just wanted a normal life.
As a member of the inner circle of both the Monty Python group, an original editor of the National Lampoon, and the man who launched the careers of John Belushi and Chevy Chase, Tony Hendra was often surrounded by famous faces. Hendra mentions many moments of comedy and humour from her unique childhood. With insight, a sense of humour, and a beautifully earnest, sensitive voice, Hendra tells a story that too many readers can relate to – that of a young woman whose world spins out of control after someone she trusts sexually abuses her. Similar to books like The Little Prisoner
About the Author
Jessica Hendra lives with her husband and two daughters in Los Angeles, California.