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Boys in the Trees: A Memoir


Boys in the Trees: A Memoir

“Growing up, I assumed every family in the world sang, harmonized, and played the piano together,” Carly Simon writes early on in her memoir, BOYS IN THE TREES. It’s a humble thought, coming from a seven-year-old girl in her small Greenwich Village apartment, where she lives with her father, Richard, the co-founder of Simon & Schuster; her mother, Andrea; and her three siblings. The book kicks off as Simon and her loved ones dance and play music while waiting for a possible nurse for the family to show up. It’s a simple scene but oddly endearing considering it’s the 1950s.

Fans know Simon best for songs like “You’re So Vain” and “Anticipation,” as well as albums she released consistently throughout the ’80s and ’90s. In BOYS IN THE TREES, we learn that she was right there in the ’60s coming up with her sister Lucy as The Simon Sisters, who wrote early folk ballads and booked gigs in London with managers like Willie Donaldson. As talented a musician as Simon is, she also tells a clear and vivid story. It was, in fact, music that helped her overcome her debilitating stutter when it was suggested that she simply sing what she was trying to say over dinner.

"BOYS IN THE TREES is a remarkable memoir filled with honesty and beauty, and the coming-of-age story of one of music's most popular artists.... one of the best books of the year."

There are also beautifully told memories that seem dream-like and surreal, nostalgic and vivid small moments that creep their way into the book. Take, for instance, Lucy and Carly as young girls finding a hidden passage within their parents’ bedroom one afternoon, only to be caught by their mother’s lover --- a young soldier named Ronny.

The beauty of the Manhattan dinner parties and summers in Martha’s Vineyard, although idyllic, also come with dark undertones --- erratic themes that filter through Simon’s life and would influence her music career. Consider her mother, who not so secretly took up a new lover and an affair even as her husband’s health declined. Simon has the tone of a poet throughout her memoir. In her early years she struggles for her father’s approval, only to be ignored in favor of Lucy. It is the complexity of her dad --- a workaholic with the heart of an artist and extraordinary musicianship who loses his company through underhanded business deals --- that becomes engaging.

Simon talks about moments in her life situated by what she refers to as the Beast --- a deep swelling of insecurity first described by her as a young lady attempting to find her place at Sarah Lawrence College: “The Beast was self consciousness, fear and loneliness inside a house run by my mother…. The Beast was my envious feelings about everything I worried about not being. Its key words are enough, and you should, and why can’t you, with me falling short, and feeling ashamed and exposed, every single time.” It’s a theme that finds its way throughout the book at nearly every turning point in her life.

BOYS IN THE TREES is a remarkable memoir filled with honesty and beauty, and the coming-of-age story of one of music's most popular artists. The people who filter through Simon’s life --- from Bob Dylan to Mick Jagger to celebrities like Sean Connery and Jack Nicholson --- all seem to play a part. They’re like extras in an expanded world. It is, of course, a wonderful journey, filled with flights of insecurity and whimsical musical moments, a life pursuit of being more than just “the girl” in anyone’s life while simultaneously seeking deep-down emotional support.

If anything, Carly Simon is a poet and a survivor. Here, she paints her own portrait, unafraid to show us the areas that make her insecure. It makes for one of the best books of the year.

Reviewed by Stephen Febick on December 18, 2015

Boys in the Trees: A Memoir
by Carly Simon

  • Publication Date: November 1, 2016
  • Genres: Memoir, Nonfiction
  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Flatiron Books
  • ISBN-10: 1250095913
  • ISBN-13: 9781250095916