Book Reviews

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Anjelica Huston has written a memoir, but it might not be the kind you'd expect from a long time A-list actress. Instead of wild Hollywood stories about winning an Oscar or life with Jack Nicholson, Huston's book carefully chronicles her childhood and young adulthood. Here's Meg Wolitzer with a review.

MEG WOLITZER, BYLINE: The book actually ends with her arrival in L.A. and I have to say it was so full of old school glamour and outsized personalities, I didn't miss the Hollywood stories at all. Anjelica's father was the legendary filmmaker John Huston. It's clear how much Anjelica admired him. Not only women, but men of all ages fell in love with my father, she writes.

They considered him a lion, a leader, the pirate they wished they had the audacity to be. But much of the drama in the story is in the father and daughter's unspoken feelings about each other. Anjelica's mother was a very beautiful former ballerina. John was constantly unfaithful to her and Anjelica knew it and felt it.

And then her mother, off on a trip to Europe with a lover of her own, is killed in a road accident. When she next sees her father, Huston writes, I don't recall a single embrace or any word of consolation, but then he might've known that I blamed him for abandoning her. I guess this is one way a person becomes sophisticated, by watching the very adult complexities of her parents' marriage. And, I suppose being visited by an assortment of movie stars and fascinating, elegant people from around the world.

I met the poet W.H. Auden, she says, who took tea in his carpet slippers in the kitchen. It's clearly important to Huston to get the details right. At one point, she describes her mother writing to her father. Her letters are like affidavits, Huston says, as if she had made an oath to report dutifully. The same can be said for a couple of descriptions in this book of things we don't really need to know about, like the names of each one of her governesses. That kind of accuracy can feel surprisingly slow in a book that's otherwise alive with sense memory.

As a young woman, Anjelica gets involved with much older men. Anyone with a smug and limited knowledge of psychology might think they understand this. But she's a smart and subtle enough writer not to aim for a pop self-diagnosis. Instead, she goes for something truer, deeper and richer than that. Again and again in this stirring memoir of a highly unusual life, Anjelica Huston just tries to show what it's been like being her.

SIEGEL: The book is "A Story Lately Told: Coming of Age in Ireland, London and New York," by Anjelica Huston. The second volume will be published next year. Our reviewer is Meg Wolitzer. Her latest book is "The Interestings."

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