Out of this elegy for a vanished world, the memoir becomes a seductive social history of the 1960s — and the story of her fractious separation from an indomitable father and grief for the loss of the mother who was the ballast of her life.
When Huston was about 10, her parents separated and Ricki moved the children to London. Mother and daughter, always close, grew closer still (“I loved our alliance, our sweet conspiracy”), and when Huston visited her father, she appropriated his house manager as a mother stand-in, as if to buffer herself from this “dominant, proud and egotistical” man, who was baffled by his “emotional and stubborn” daughter. She had her Waterloo with him at 14, when, having heard she’d been dancing suggestively at a discothèque, he called her into his room and hit her “hard in the face, backward and forward.” Later, when he seemed to acknowledge the outburst by acting “sheepishly,” she says, “I didn’t want to be near him.” She was afraid, but it was a steely, not a cowering, fear.
London in the early and mid-60s was ground zero of that transformative era, and Huston lived at its center. She lists the women “on the scene” (Jean Shrimpton, Pattie Boyd, Jane Birkin, Susannah York), and the bands (Traffic, Cream, the Yardbirds, the Kinks) — as well as the scents of the time (“lavender, sandalwood, . . . unwashed hair, . . . patchouli”) and fashions (she wore that same “embroidered Afghan jacket that smelled strongly of goat” that so many of us proudly waltzed around in) — with a kind of impatience, as if the moment was too frenetic to be conventionally described.
Huston is blunt about the opportunities her access afforded her. “It was remarkable how things came so easily to me,” she writes. She fell into acting (acting in her father’s films and understudying for Marianne Faithfull in “Hamlet”) and modeling (for David Bailey and Richard Avedon): “In every generation a flock of pretty girls was released into society, with the help of their mothers, via the pages of the glamour magazines. . . . Often they were the progeny of good bloodlines — rich, clever, famous fathers and the beautiful women who married them. I was no exception to this fortunate rule.” This is a caveat: If overcoming serious obstacles is what you want in a memoir, go no further; you won’t find it here. But if you’re seeking a look at high echelons, continue on, reader. I will give it to you as if straight from my diary.
Huston and her mother were both dating — it was a time when early married women, now divorced, seized second chances at youth — and this caused wordless friction between them. One night, after her mother broached the subject (“You know, Anjel, we need to talk”), Huston burst into tears at the prospect of clearing the air. Then Ricki left hurriedly on a road trip with her musician beau, taking the tapes — Dylan, Miles Davis, the Stones, Vivaldi — her daughter selected. She died in a car crash in 1969. Losing the mother she deeply loved felt like “an abduction.”