Tuesday, October 7, 2014

FIGURES OF BEAUTY is a novel about marble and human emotion, what is timeless and enduring

David McFarlane's FIGURES OF BEAUTY (Harper, Oct.) is a novel about youth's passion in the sensual Old World and maturity in the tepid New World. What makes the story unique is the role of marble, which links characters of different eras to the same town, Pietrabella, in Carrera, Italy. Whether Michelangelo actually got his marble there is disputed but not the quality of the stone. It's beauty, and the ancient techniques of local miners, remain unchanged.

The marble is wrested from the ground and transported to lower ground, often at great cost to the men of the town. Danger is always present, yet they are proud of the industry. For centuries, Carrera's marble has gone around the world for monuments and facades, urinals and sinks. The streets of the town are marble, as are the cutting boards. Among the locals miners and craftsmen are sculptors, like Anna, who lives to carve marble. Her understanding of life is through her work and she's happiest covered in marble dust, mallet in hand.

While Anna's passion for marble is creative, Julian Morran's is both aesthetic and mercantile. In 1922, he is the owner of the marble mines and workshops of the town. A sophisticated Scottish businessman, Morran found fulfillment in the unpretentious Italian town. His talent as salesman meant prosperity and fame, since no opportunity was ever lost to export the stone. When he encounters the honeymooning Bartons, a Canadian newspaper magnate and his art critic wife, he finds soul mates, who make their home into a duplicate of his very tasteful estate.

This includes a marble pool and a mysterious statue of a woman with a jug, that may date before the Romans. In 1968, when Anna meets Oliver Hughson, that statue is outside her rented farmhouse on the same site. And it will figure in their destiny.
Oliver is vagabonding in Europe, when he must flee Paris and fatefully decides to look up an acquaintance in Carrera. He falls in love with Anna, shares her Bohemian life of art, food and friends, even occasionally modelling for money. Though entirely different from what he's know, Oliver has never been as comfortable in his life. He wants to be a writer and live with Anna, when he learns he must leave to help his adopted parents.

Anna is furious that he would walk away from something so good. She knows it's the worst mistake of their lives, though Oliver doesn't realize this until later. Anna never answers his letters, she never tells him he fathered a daughter. In 2013, that adult daughter, a writer, goes to Canada to track down the father she never knew and the stories that led to her birth. Hers is the first and the last narratives of FIGURES OF BEAUTY.

In intermittent chapters, FIGURES OF BEAUTY tells Anna's story, as a single Bohemian mother in a traditional town, as well as her birth, in 1944, during the German occupation and a horrendous event. There is Oliver's story about the cost of passion denied; a life of yearning despite decades without contact. There's his career as an art critic, taking care of his parents, then the final chance for happiness, after discovering the daughter he never knew.

Along with these lives, there is the story of one family of workmen, who paid the ultimate price. After a fateful accident, their son, Lino, became a carver of marble and, later an independent craftsman in America. His story is a linchpin to the fate of others in this well crafted and feeling novel.

In McFarlane's FIGURES OF BEAUTY, the figures are the intertwined lives of characters of great feeling. Like hidden fault lines in marble, which can split a stone apart, the figures in this novel are torn by what is unknown or lost. Together, they weave a human story of beauty and power.

As art student in Rome, I went to Carrera and picked out a piece of marble. I eagerly learned carving techniques, spending months gaining the muscle to release what I saw inside the stone. Half through, the stone split diagonally, and all was lost. In this book, I learned that no one could predict a fault, not even Michelangelo. But he knew the right paste to hold it together.


Monday, October 6, 2014

Short Takes: SHANE CULLAINE SERIES & NUMA. A Hard-boiled Guy & A Shape-Shifting Girl

The Savage Dance, Shane Cullaine Book 1 by Patrick King

This novel reminds me of Mickey Spillane modern, a guy with his own ethical compass and a softness for the ladies. Shane, known as "cool," from his previous life as a high school athlete, Shane is rough around the edges with huge simmering emotion underneath. This guy has a poet's perception of the tarnished beauty of life--observing it's beauty and the ideal, while absorbing the worst. This is a page-turner, exciting, funny dialogue, and over-the-top action. Shane is a surprise, even to himself, and his reflexes are super hero. Yet his flaws and regrets are only human. I look forward to Book 2. 

Numa:An Epic Poem with Photo Collages by Katrinka Moore, Published
by Aqueduct Press' Conversation Pieces. This poem tells the story of a shape shifting girl in the woods, who gives birth to a cub and must deal with an interloper. But what impressed me was not the story but the feeling of being alien in nature. Numa experiences and becomes feral beauty. You discover with her what it means to be human, in a primal sense--shape shifting to survive.

So what could a new detective series and an epic literary poem have in common?  Shape-shifting has a few meanings but both Shane and Numa use it to keep balance in unpredictable terrain.--S.W.


bird's head on
a young girl's body/feathery
crest, yellow
tipped/thin fast
down legs     hop
from one
foot to the
other/ a berry
in her hand

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Not flashy or world shaking, THE HOME PLACE is moving, a kind of literary truism that holds up--because it is true..

THE HOME PLACE by Carrie La Seur (William Morrow, August) is a book you can depend on. It's not flashy or world shaking, but it's moving, a kind of literary truism that holds up. As opposed to cliches, which have lost their meaning, truisms are repeated because they are...true. THE HOME PLACE tells the story of a high-flying lawyer, Alma Terrebonne, who escaped the debilitating weather, poverty and in-bred habits of her Montana town. Alma's the only one, in seven generations, to get out.

As the story opens, she's happy with her life in Seattle. In peak shape, she enjoys bicycling uphill to work. Alma's got the smarts and unyielding "killer" instincts that make her invaluable to the sexist fools in her firm. She's poised for triumph, depending on how she plays it, and then there's her charming investment banker boyfriend and their co-op with the incredible views. Her life's on target, when she receives a call from the police that her young sister,Vicky, is dead and there's a child, her niece, alone and grieving.

At once, there's a measure of all that she escaped, the weather that ostensibly killed her sister, and the hopeless drug culture of her town. She could have been Vicky, they looked enough alike. But there was the ten year separation in their ages. After her parents died in a car accident and Alma went off to college, Vicky had to live with their scary violent older brother and his strange religious wife. Vicky went from bad to worse. Everyone in their town seemed to think it was somehow inevitable a young woman, not yet in her 30's, froze to death one night, her body not found until the next morning.

Alma identifies the body and comforts her traumatized eleven year old niece, who called relatives when  her drunk mother walked out. Why did no one come?  Alma is drawn into a mystery that's as deep as her French Canadian roots, as fierce as the frontier that exacted a tough price from her family but gave them a sky and land so beautiful they built a homestead. Now Alma's family lived in town but her grandma still owned the place.

In Montana, Alma realizes she's been measuring temperate Seattle against it for years--feeling unsettled in some part of herself. IN THE HOME PLACE, her search for the real cause of her sister's death is also a search for herself. The values she has cherished, her independence, financial security and the comfortable familiarity of her Canadian boyfriend, seem superficial--unreal-- when she goes home. In this debut novel, the pull of home looks less like failure than recovery.

After Alma uncovers her sister's fate, rooted in the family's twisted past, she begins to see what's strong and meaningful about her heritage. This is a novel, where substantial means different things. What is career and money, a convenient boyfriend, real estate, when she's divorced from the purpose of her pioneering grandmother? Alma's people are able to weather the worst and take comfort from the earth. The homestead was built to endure.
Coming home is a new start for Alma and her niece.

But it takes all Alma's Terrebonne's backbone to get there. I loved this murder mystery that hinges on the maturity of the heroine. The personal meanings of home, a ranch that's become a meth lab, is returned to its pioneer purpose. Working the place also means defending it from the bullying of the fraking industry. Alma must look ahead to the future to preserve her heritage.

This is a wonderful modern western. I'd like to see a strong actress play Alma's role in a movie. This woman's not imitating the men or trying to fulfill their expectations. Instead, she's trying to figure out the terms of her own existence. There is a love interest, but he's not so intrinsic to what happens. Great read.


Saturday, August 9, 2014

Donna Tartt's THE GOLDFINCH has GREAT EXPECTATIONS, how the tropes of one classic inspired another.

While greatly enjoying THE GOLDFINCH, I noticed more than a nod to Great Expectations. Tartt doesn't merely reinvent the familiar tropes of the classic but takes them in directions significant for our time. Like the painted goldfinch, the trompe l'oeil masterpiece of the story, this novel is both referential and its own entity. The fluff on the bird in the painting looks soft as real down but close-up is just brush strokes. Part of my pleasure in this novel was to be caught up in it, while noticing Tartt's sleight of hand.

Both THE GOLDFINCH and GREAT EXPECTATIONS are narrated by young heroes trying to make sense of strange destinies in journals they assume no one will read. Both are resigned to diminished expectation, when fate takes a sudden turn. The orphaned Pip, though exposed to wealth, literature and culture, through the stagy Ms. Havisham, had resigned himself to an apprenticeship at the blacksmith's bench, when a mysterious benefactor gives him the moneyed life of a gentleman.

When Theo loses his mother in a terrorist blast at the Met, he's taken into the wealthy Park Avenue family of his boyhood friend. His eccentric mother, Mrs.Barbour, runs a stagy household of formal meals and parties, where each family member has an expected role. And, as the expendable outsider, Theo desperately wants to fit in. Neither Pip or Theo know if these frosty women really care.

Then, just as Theo learns the family will adopt him, his long-lost father appears to take him to Las Vegas. Pip's barely started his apprenticeship, when a lawyer appears to take him to the city for a new life. Both of these changes have disastrous effects. Pip's descent into debauchery introduced by his dissolute roommate, includes expensive liquor, foppish clothes, and dinners with actresses. Unsupervised in Las Vegas, Theo meets Boris, a teen stoner, who introduces him to alcoholism, drugs, and shoplifting.

Pip's existence as an ersatz gentleman erodes his sense of identity and values. He acquires a cursory education for his new station in life but has no real purpose. Even spending money gives Pip decreasing pleasure, since it can't buy him the status he needs to win his beloved Estella. His hopes to establish himself also mean he divorces himself from Joe, the simple blacksmith.

Similarly, in Las Vegas Theo finds his old prep school jacket literally no longer fits. He's educated to be a "player," a gambler like his father, whose mystic philosophy of winning works, until it doesn't.  Boris, like Pip's roommate, is a dissolute influence. With no mother or real home, he teaches Theo streetwise ways to survive parental neglect. Crime acquires a certain legitimacy and glamour for Theo, until his father's loan shark comes calling.

When he dies, Theo flees to New York and ends up living with Hobbe in the Village. Like the blacksmith, Hobbe is a master craftsman, skilled in Antiquarian furniture. Both men are good natured with earthy appreciation of food and company. They serve as emotional anchors for Pip and Theo, who know they can always find a home with them. As a boy who suffered huge loss, Theo was attracted to the permanent feel of old things in Hobbe's shop.  As a man, he takes over the business side of the firm. Yet his duplicity, like Pip's, hurts his mentor.

A curious invention in The Goldfinch is Tartt's Pippa, the girl Theo loves. In some ways, she's a female Pip. Orphaned and raised by Hobbe, as Pip was by Joe, she is his counterpart in pragmatism. Though physically damaged by the blast, in which she lost the ability to become a professional musician, she seeks a stable life. Theo sees Pippa as his better self. But he is only her twin in having lived through the blast and lost a parent. But, where Pippa wants the salve of simplicity, with Theo there is only the recognition of trauma. Theo comes to understand his obsession with her (like Pip's for Estella) is due to the strange fact that her appearance at the Museum and his mother's loss were simultaneous. He experiences her purity and goodness as what's lost to him.

Theo plays out scenarios of dislocation and destruction. He desperately wants love but experiences estrangement. Possessing The Goldfinch, a painting beyond value, makes him feel complete. When 13 year old Theo first woke up in the devastated museum, he put the painting in a shopping bag to protect it. But when he fled with the bag, he unwittingly became an art thief. The 16th century work is of a bird chained to a stand. Though the bird's captive, the painting's luminous with a transcendent quality. For Theo, it's the last tie to his mother. He hides it for years, becomes afraid to look at it but the secret of the hidden painting separates him from everyone--except Boris.

Pip's secret benefactor, a reformed criminal, is also like Theo's Boris. Both are shadow "others" to their heroes. Boris is a kind of doppelganger, who likes girls and money, but is most happy when in danger through some business. In Boris' lack of limits with alcohol, drugs, risk, Theo sees a reflection both scary and attractive. Boris lives life with a connection Theo lacks but a self-destruction he understands. The difference is that while for Boris criminality is how he's survived, Theo knows his grand theft of the painting began with good motives.

Nevertheless, Theo's continued possession makes him duplicitous to himself. Outwardly his work and residence with Hobbe are stable. Yet his secret creates emotional distance and the need for constant manipulation. Playing to other's expectations, Theo becomes a gifted salesman. Then, favoring his "father's half," he does duplicitous deals to save Hobbe's business. His good intentions through bad means are echoes of Pip's risk of prison to save his benefactor. Pip thinks of nothing but to repay the man's generosity

Honesty and crime are muddled in both stories, not unlike Boris' beloved Dostoyevsky. In THE GOLDFINCH, the reader experiences with Theo how intentions can be viewed differently, depending on the circumstances in which a person finds himself. Boris and Pip's patron, the former convict, are both criminals and benefactors. They echo the theme of good intentions through bad means that follows Theo from his theft. In addition, the blame Theo feels for his mother's death colors all that follows. When Theo and Boris learn the Goldfinch is stolen by a gang of art thieves, they engage in a violent attempt to recover it. Not so amazingly, Theo's focus is now on preservation over possession.

At the end of THE GOLDFINCH, Theo, like Pip, finds himself much the wiser in a better life. For Theo, redemption, business and personal, brings a strange peace. This novel is smart and entertaining. Glad it got the Pulitzer.


Victoria Hetherington's novel, I HAVE TO TELL YOU (0s-1s.com.) will, I am sure, appeal to young single people in the working world. I  liked the Edie conversation in the beginning, where the girl skewers the guy about liking self-destructive women. I also liked the sexiness of the novel. 


Wednesday, July 30, 2014

LAY IT ON MY HEART & TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD are told by small town kids who struggle; one with extreme evangelism, the other racism.

Harper Lee's classic novel, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, revealed the underbelly of racism through a young girl's narrative of injustice and hypocrisy in a small southern town. Something similar happens in Angela Pneuman's new novel, LAY IT ON MY HEART, (July, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), where Charmaine Peakes, a 13-year old raised in an extreme evangelical Kentucky town, struggles to reconcile her family's belief and the town's moral purpose with the downward spiral of their lives. Amazingly, this novel manages to be funny about the serious stuff.

That she is the granddaughter of the iconic prophet of East Windsor, whose "great awakening" attracted people to found the town, gives Charmaine a special status. But more important to her is the fact of her father's prophetic gift. He's revered by the town as a man close to God, whose writings are inspired. Charmaine wishes he had more time for her, though she accepts that he's "different" and struggles to fulfill his expectations.

Among these is the prayer without ceasing. While her father's been in Jerusalem, Charmaine tries to master this practice but finds it difficult. Continual prayer is supposed to be so automatic, it's under your thoughts and words. Yet no matter how she tries, she loses the thought and experiences no sense of the Holy Spirit. She wants to succeed to be close to her father. Not yet, she thinks on the way to meet him at the airport.

He's written her mother, Phoebe, that he's received a new direction, which she says is probably a series of articles. Charmaine, like her mother, is leery of revelations since the one to " live on faith alone," which meant he quit his job. Except for her mother's secret seamstress work, they would have lost their home. Charmaine prays to be strong enough for whatever course God has chosen, hopefully not incessant poverty.

At the airport, she hardly recognizes her father in the gaunt man wearing filthy tattered robes. Dazed by his surroundings, David barely greets his family and Charmaine can't help being embarrassed by his smell. That he immediately heads for their cabin by the river, is also disappointing, Charmaine and her mother can only hope that he will eventually come home.

Charmaine also worries that he's wandering in the dark, wrapped up in ceaseless prayer. This proves prophetic, when he stumbles into poison ivy, tries to kill the itch with bleach, and ends up in a hospital ward with serious burns. Then his possession by the Lord disappears, along with his ceaseless prayer, when a psychiatrist gives him medicine for manic depression. The prophet becomes a stranger, even to himself.

Phoebe is stunned by the idea of mental illness. She tells Charmaine the old story of how her father proposed marriage because God told him to marry her. When he recovers, he'll come to himself, she says. In the meantime, Phoebe gets a job as a substitute teacher, rents their house, and moves them to the cabin by the river, really a small trailer on a cement foundation surrounded by logs. For Charmaine this is a huge loss. Not only can't she visit her father but she has to leave her room and most of her possessions to a pompous missionary boy.

She begins 7th grade possessing a cat and some old clothes. Worse is the loss of
privacy in the claustrophobic cabin. And, as they sink into the struggle for daily survival on substitute teaching gigs, food is scarce. McDonald's is a luxury, when they scrounge coins for gas. So Charmaine takes the school bus, where her identity is constantly challenged from sexual teasing to Jesus Freak labels. But she's got a kind of internal discipline, viewed as "uppity," to withstand much of this, and she makes a couple friends.

For them, her father's absence is business as usual. Tracy's father started another family and stays when he feels like it. Kelly Lynne, the beautiful would-be cheerleader, never sees her divorced father, while her mother keeps starting over with new husbands. Charmaine is clear that divorce does not apply to her parents. Her father is ill and will come home. Yet she hears Phoebe, her confidant in close quarters, talk about how she never thought to doubt him. He was God's own and a wife was to "cleave" to her husband in all ways. She bitterly calls herself a fool. Charmaine doesn't say that cleave has two meanings, to tear apart and to stick together.

Charmaine's pastor asks her to choose people to "Lay on her heart" and she chooses her friends. They are not of her faith and she's questioning all she's been taught to accept. There's putting God first, when she doesn't feel a connection, and her father's prophecy may be mental illness, and the evils of lust, when she sees how repression in one townsman led to a twisted life. And while she respects the charitable values of her community, she dislikes the pity that's replaced reverence and the fact that financial aid hinges on her father's recovery.

In LAY IT ON MY HEART, Charmaine's foundation of belief cracks open with the reality of her father's mental illness and the hypocrisy of her community. Like Scout, she develops uncompromising honesty. She keeps faith with what she has experienced. At the end of the book, she climbs a water tower and looks down at all the places of her childhood. The police lights converge to rescue her but Charmaine has already rescued herself. She has found a place, where inspiration and sanity are one.


Thursday, July 3, 2014

PARADISE GARDENS Chapter 25 Janet McCarthy Loses Herself & Finds Her Right Mind, http://maglomaniac.com/paradise-gardens-chapter-25-year-3012-underground-surface/


Paradise Gardens- Chapter 25- Year 3012, the Underground and the Surface

Janet McCarthy Loses Herself and Finds Her Right Mind

Janet thought of the strange dissolution of her family. They became uncommunicative, then absent, transferred to various branches of Rudimental Life. Confidences grew shallow, limited to protect state security, and reunions were further strained by the reconditioning process. Her parents lost vital areas of memory; first a lessening of feeling about the past, a reordering of its meaning, and, finally, the erasure and substitution of whole events. Not me, it will not happen to my pristine mind, she thought. The day she left the co-op, she wrote on the wall of her room, “The feeling for what ought and ought not to be grows and dies like a tree, and no fertilizer of any kind will do much good.” Einstein offered the only explanation for her flight her family might understand, if not thwarted by dissolving identity.
She could never tell the truth; that she’d left the corporate entity for a group of dissidents dedicated to the preservation of unadulterated information. The change was swift. Within days, she went from writing insurance policies to chronicling the end of the old city government. Where was that document, written at the suburban center in the town of White Plains, NY?
She tried to remember its contents, but could only visualize a large 1970’s modern house with a cathedral ceiling and a finished basement. In that cozy room, she had left her unfinished narrative of the war. “Warfare cannot be humanized, it can only be abolished.” More Einstein filled her memory with the idealism of working to keep information free. Safe on the roof, she had watched the fires of the burning city the night the business colonies pressed for victory over the Old Federal system. Smoke looked white in the searchlights of the Times Square Project. Peace was declared amid riot police, state troopers and national guardsmen. Later, in a televised prayer, all put aside their arms and pledged their loyalty to the new U.B.E.
Janet’s group, in league with sympathetic employees, spirited themselves into the new business estates. I.D. papers of lost relatives and co-workers were transferred and they assumed new positions, some after physical alteration. They worked for a future other than that imposed by the U.B.E. But Rudimental Life was too accurate in assessing employee capabilities. She would soon be apprehended among her group of informational rebels. To remain at large, she found an unlikely occupation in a far-flung corner of the estate. When she came across the request for the wife of a cement-worker, she quickly transmitted her own interest in the position. In that identity, she had journeyed to Indiana and married Frank Robinson.
But she didn’t want to think about him now. Affection mingled with the fear that her mind was not her own. With tremendous effort, she changed the course of her memories to an announcement of the new government heard via the first broadcast of the noon news. There was spokesperson Jack Elderly passionately declaiming a global entity without state or national boundaries, which offered economic haven for the troubled peoples of the world. The helmet was having an effect. Her upset feelings were soon evened-out. A moment of bliss and she remembered…what?
It is strange to reach the last chapter of this serial, a book that began with dreams in the 1980's and a book about the passage of medievalism to capitalism. I thought to reverse that in a future world.  At that time climate control and it's consequences were in the realm of speculative even "paranoid" fiction. My work was inspired by the tradition of the cautionary tale, like Upton Sinclair's "IT CAN'T HAPPEN HERE."  PARADISE GARDENS was written for decades, until my final version, with Kelli LaPointe's editorial direction, for Maglomaniac. Hope people will download this cautionary tale, now that reality has caught up with dream life.  A part of me thinks a book can change the direction of a culture, or contribute to a new direction, when it's on target.  Another part thinks all books are words blowing in the time space continuum, until a different path opens up. Then a book can seem a quaint artifact from a bygone era, like 1984 as a cautionary tale about Fascism. But fascism reoccurs as does medievalism, even reinvented in a corporate future world.  
Thanks if you've followed the Serial of PARADISE GARDENS. If you're curious, below is a synopsis of the novel.

Scroll down for 80 sec reading. I'm last one on page. Thx.--SW

Weinstein’s PARADISE GARDENS is an Orwellian dystopia, set in a near future world where the Federal government has dissolved amid ecological breakdown. Corporate business flees to an underground colony, PARADISEGARDENS, the home of the United Business Estates (U.B.E). Left behind are the Unconnected, people outside corporate protection. In the U.B.E. employees are conceived as Superior or Average. Capitalism has devolved into feudalism.
The novel is suspended between the settings of 2250 in New York City and 3011 in the Underground U.B.E. Chapters alternate with a revolving cast of characters determined by the Psychologicians, the priestly class that manages the civilization’s data base. In this cautionary near-future, Upton Sinclair’s classic It Can’t Happen Here, has happened here. It is a vision at once strange and familiar. The recognition it brings is a dark pleasure.

Brandon Melendez, Publisher, Maglomaniac

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Is Angelica Huston channeling Colette? Read Vol. 1 of her memoirs, A STORY LATELY TOLD. Can't wait for Vol 2, WATCH ME, in Nov.

As a girl, Angelica Huston's mom would encourage her to read Colette and, of her many influences, this one may have taken root. In her first memoir, A STORY LATELY TOLD: Coming of Age in Ireland, London, and New York (Scribner, Simon & Schuster), there is similarity to Colette in her acute observations; less about what people said, than their experiences and the lives they created.

There's also an account of her modelling years that reminded me of Colette's backstage look at the Folies Bergere. Both think they're not really the "type." Colette says she's too self-conscious, a writer performing a pantomime in a music hall. Angelica believe's she not beautiful enough. She had Richard Avedon's word on this. When her parents inquired whether he thought the young Angelica was model material, he'd said her shoulders were too broad. Angelica added a nose that's too large, eyes too small, a look not for conventional beauty. Both Colette and Angelica wrote about shoddy reality behind the "glamour." The artistes of the music hall, like the "girls," who model, were always without money. Payment for both was at the mercy of management's arbitrary rules..

Angelica and Colette also had in common childhoods in the country with artistic mothers. Sido, Colette's mother, was a water colorist, a lover of nature, an incredible gardener and cook. Ricki, a former ballet dancer once on the cover of Vogue, transformed rooms with her singular aesthetic, combining beauty, function and humor. Huston's worldly family was grounded on their Irish country estate, as Colette's was in a provincial French village. Oddly, the Hustons were readily accepted by the neighboring gentry, joining in the hunting and drinking. 

Tony, Angelica's brother, and she lived with their mother and servants in the cozy Little House on the estate, except when their father landed home between films. Then they were allowed in the Big House, an ancient building of cold stone, warmed by extravagant floor heating and the imaginations of Angelica's parents. They filled themed rooms with artifacts from all over the world. John Huston was a cultural potentate, bringing to his kingdom rare and usually expensive trees, animals, fabric or furniture. Once desired, objects appeared, even if, like his Matisse, he gambled for it. Amid the outrageous expense were always rumors of her family's imminent poverty. 

While Angelica was full of wonder for flowers and animals, water and rocks, Tony, a few years older, explored gunpowder and fed chicks to his falcon collection. Both  ran wild around the countryside, reined in by servants and their mother for meals, baths and tutoring. Eventually, they were sent to local Irish schools and, though an indifferent student, Angelica liked pageants and concerts. Occasionally, her father was in town to attend one or celebrate her birthday with a jewel.

Angelica was consciousness of her mother's growing sense of abandonment. She describes one evening, when Ricki planned an elegant party. She wore a sophisticated dress and when weather derailed the event, was alone, all dressed up with no place to go. Angelica ponders the performing world her mother gave up to marry her father; her expectations of the marriage, and the life she settled for. Months would go by, until John Huston would swoop in with the cast and crew of The African Queen or some other production, and the Big House would come alive. Ricki's job was to keep the estate in readiness for his arrivals.

John Huston loved showing off his life as the master of an Irish country estate. He'd dress like an aristocrat in tweed cloaks and hats. But his fabulous artifacts, whether Medieval or Renaissance, Japanese or Mexican, were the glory of the world, the backdrop of his life. The dogs and horses, the grounds and plumbing, and the education of his children, were Ricki's world. Glamorous, beautiful, she was also his proud possession and expected to perform, as were the children. Angelica recalls him quizzing her about the "news". He always challenged them to tell him something interesting they learned. The pressure of disappointing her father could reduce her to tears; sometimes of  anger, at the demands of her imperious, egocentric and yet loving, often solicitous father.

This country idyl broke down, when her parents began to separate. Soon, when her father came with his parties of important friends, Ricki was away. And at the Big House were various lady friends, though John eventually installed Betty to run the household. Ricki's absence from Ireland began in an amorphous way, Angelica muses. She must have learned of John's affairs. Yet, Angelica only knew that her mother was gone and Betty was in charge. It would be a year, until she and Tony were told of the separation, and more time before they went to live with Ricki in London. Yet, ever the empathic child, Angelica was aware of her mother's feelings of abandonment, as her father pursued himself in the arms of other women.

Ricki was less of an authoritarian than her father, except during Angelica's adolescence in the late 60's in England, when she kept after her about school and curfews. But there were also times, when Ricky traveled, not alone. Though she was careful to keep her private life from her precocious teenager, Angelica knew her mother was trying to rebuild her life. Angelica was also finding herself. At 15 and 16, she looked older, wore miniskirts and lots of make-up and flirted with men.  .

One of the strengths in this memoir is Angelica's ability to be both the child puzzling out her world and the adult making shrewd conjectures with an instinct for emotional truth. She shows both her self-involved teen behavior; the lies, skipping school, petty theft, and her wrenching attempts to become her own adult person. She has sex and feels used. She decides to become an actress and has a chance to audition for Zefferelli's Juliet. But then her mother lets her know that her father wants to manage her debut. He has her fly to Rome to work on his film. Angelica dislikes the script and feels no affinity with the part. Worse yet, the process of working with her father is devastating. When she's savaged by reviewers, she decides to pursue a modelling career.

Angelica's adolescence in London was shadowed by Ricki's bouts of depression, culminating with the news she was pregnant by a lover. Angelica, already resentful after meeting her father's love child in Rome, views the baby as another interloper. But her resentment disappears in real joy at the wonder of her baby sister, Allegra. Those feelings were soon dwarfed by the tragedy of her mother's death, abruptly killed in a car accident.

If  there's a "ghost" writing this memoir, it's the absence of Ricki and Angelica's attempt to make sense of that void. When John Huston takes Allegra and her nurse to Ireland, Angelica is relieved that her sister will be taken care of. Left on her own at 17, with feelings beyond the comfort of family friends, Angelica went to New York. While pursuing her modelling career, she did visit her grandparents at their restaurant in New York. And, though they never openly criticized Ricki's husband, they took extra care of her daughter.

Through old family connections, like Avedon, Angelica was introduced to Eileen Ford, and she soon worked with not only Avedon, but legendary photographers like Bailey, Penn, Helmut Newton, for shows by Valentino, Zandra Rhodes, and other great designers, crisscrossing Europe. Eventually, she became involved with photographer Bob Richardson, as muse and lover. His was a talent so attuned to her own, and yet so mentally unbalanced, that she began to come undone.

In this most painful part of the memoir, Angelica is unflinching about the reality she experienced. She describes the highs of their life together, both aesthetic and chemical, and the intense emotional connection that made her suffer through increasingly destructive lows. Apartments and belongings were destroyed but that was little compared to her battered spirit and increasing emotional fragility. In one of John Huston's most amazing roles, this father intervened to give his daughter a way out.

This memoir recreates the life of a exceptional and imperfect family,  How this artist became herself seems a triumph of what was best in these people--originality and stalwart affection.