2005_08_artslonelydoll.jpg So, it’s August and your shrink has split. Eleven months of listening to you has earned her a few weeks of rest, no? You, unfortunately, don’t get a break from your issues. All we have to offer by way of solace is a book that might make them seem minor by comparison to those of its subject: Dare Wright. The Secret Life of the Lonely Doll is Jean Nathan’s biography of Wright, an alarmingly eccentric beauty who wrote and photographed one of the oddest and most popular children’s books of the past fifty years.

You don’t have to be familiar with The Lonely Doll to enjoy Nathan’s book, but perhaps you remember this book of photographs that tell the story of Edith, a doll who is alone in the world. One day she meets a nice little teddy bear and his father, who take her in. This sounds simple and appealing, and the pink gingham border and pretty blonde doll on the cover promise a sweet enough story. But pay closer attention and there’s something very weird about the photographs, the melancholy doll, and, god help us if it’s just our dirty adult mind, the way Mr. Bear spanks the doll when she misbehaves. Eloise is an abandoned little girl, too, but her exuberance and outgoing antics make her tight-lipped Edith’s direct opposite.

The book was a hit in 1957, and it spawned a series of sequels. Nevertheless, it was out of print by the late 1990s, when a journalist called Jean Nathan remembered it, tracked down a copy, and was struck by oddnesses she had not noticed as a child. Eventually Nathan found Dare Wright herself, at that point a dying woman in Queens, and unearthed the strange life story of a beautiful woman, both a model and a photographer, whose relationship with her domineering mother defined and deformed her existence. You think your family is odd? The mother was called Edie (remember Edith, the Lonely Doll?), and she often had her grown daughter pose for nude photographs. Wright was never able to sustain a romantic attachment, she was obsessed with the trappings of childhood, and she slept in her mother’s bed until her mother died.

Jean Nathan has found a story far stranger and sadder than the Lonely Doll’s, and fortunately for us she has told it well. The paperback was just released, and Nathan discusses her book at the Bryant Park Reading Room (outside, in the park) this Wednesday at 12:30pm as part of Coliseum Books’s Word for Word series. And in July, Variety announced that Julian Schnabel will direct a Dare Wright biopic.