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'A Story Lately Told': Book Review

A Story Lately Told Book Cover - P 2013

There's little life in Anjelica Huston's memoir about growing up in Ireland and London.

On the back cover blurb of Anjelica Huston's new memoir of growing up in Ireland, London and New York, celebrated writer Joan Didion writes, "Lucid, loving, all a memoir can be."

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Director Mike Nichols adds it is "written with the magic of the Irish and a touch of the family genius…gorgeous."

Those comments made me wonder what Joan and Mike were smoking or at least left me unsure if we'd read the same book, because A Story Lately Told disappoints.

Born in 1951, Huston has led what on the surface is a fascinating life: The daughter of legendary director John Huston and his fourth wife, the much younger ballerina Enrica Soma, she was raised in Ireland and London where she hobnobbed with the children of aristocrats and Oscar winners; in her twenties, Huston became a famous model before she took up acting seriously at 22, when she moved to Hollywood in 1973.

It's a pity her memoir fails to make those experiences come alive on the page because she's so emotionally remote and detached from her own story. There's no life in this life story.

Far too often the story simply devolves into a recitation of places she went and people she met -- more diary than memoir. She spends far too much time on her early childhood in Ireland, where her parents owned an old country house in County Galway.

The mundane stories about her horses and friends are only occasionally interrupted by tales -- almost always involving her father -- that hint at what we're missing. He often paraded naked around his children (we learn he was well-endowed, though a young Anjelica tried not to look). One gem reveals how he won and lost a fortune gambling in an attempt to raise money to buy a Monet, only to find out the casino had initially miscounted his winnings and handed him back more money. "It's OK honey," he told Enrica, "we won the Monet."

The relationship between Anjelica's parents was complicated -- John lived in the main house, Enrica and the kids in a guest cottage -- but her mother, a celebrated beauty 23 years her husband's junior, stayed in the marriage despite the difficulties. Yet neither the relationship nor her mother ever comes into clear focus. Huston resists bringing much hindsight to her description of what's happening. Everything is seen through the eyes of the child. I was fascinated but so frustrated that I looked around for a biography of the mother (unfortunately there doesn't appear to be one).

The story picks up a bit when she becomes a model and gets involved with the older (also ironically by 23 years) married photographer Bob Richardson. He's a bad guy -- irresponsible and physically abuse -- but the flat retelling of their three-year relationship robs it of drama and doesn't offer much insight into Huston's inner life. The book ends just after she left Richardson and moved to Los Angeles to pursue acting.

A second volume (due in late 2014) will tell that story, including Huston's 16-year relationship with Jack Nicholson. Let's hope the move out West loosens her up so the stories and insight flow more freely the next time around.