Love Child: A Memoir of Family Lost and Found (Simon & Schuster, 2009) by Allegra Huston has so far racked up nine five-star customer reviews on Amazon.com. And it is a good book. Eloquent at points, impeccably written, full of enough famous names and juicy bits of gossip to keep the whole thing running along more or less smoothly.
That said, Huston’s memoir falls short of five stars. Its main problem is that the narrative voice (Huston’s own character) isn’t wholly likable. Yes, she’s the victim of too much fame and fortune. Due to her mother’s untimely death she is sent to live with her formidable father—film director John Huston—from whom her mother had been estranged. But John Huston never really parents young Allegra, leaving her, instead, to be raised by a string of nurses, secretaries, siblings and girlfriends. The result of this virtual orphanhood seems to be a constant questioning of worth and place in the mind of the author. “Dad was a great man, a famous film director, revered almost like a god—not someone who should be expected to comb a little girl’s hair,” she writes at one point. “I was transgressing the boundaries I’d set for myself: of being no trouble, of being able to look after myself.”
And later, when Huston learns that her real father (hence the title of the book) is actually the English Lord John Julius, she writes of him: “I thought he was relieved when he finally dropped me back at the house on Cheyne Walk. I was a duty he’d performed nobly, and it was a good thing I was a semi-secret. I had been an embarrassment to him just by being born; and I was an embarrassment in myself now.” She is the ultimate poor little rich girl.
Though Huston’s book deals with her own process of self-acceptance and coming to terms with a less-than-perfect childhood (and more power to her for that), what it most engaging and intriguing about Love is the author’s proximity to other famous people. There’s her older sister, Anjel (A.K.A. actress Anjelica Huston) who brought teen-aged Allegra to live with Anjel’s then-boyfriend: “‘This is Ryan,’ she said to me. O’Neal: I knew. He was big and broad-chested, with wavy blond hair and lips the same color as his skin … The men at the other end were, I found out later, his brother and his coke dealer.”
And when stars aren’t in the immediate vicinity, equally fascinating characters crop up: “His name was Arturo and he always drove for Daddy in Mexico City. He had once been a boxer and had killed a man in the ring. Of course Daddy would have a driver with a story like that.”
Love is, ultimately, not a very happy story (though it ends well). It’s sort of a cautionary tale, though of what I’m not certain. Don’t plumb this book for profound realizations; do enjoy it for the gossip, the jet-setting life (Huston moves frequently between London, L.A. and Mexico) and the close brushes with fame.
Allegra Huston appears at Malaprop’s on Saturday, May 2. The 7 p.m. event is free. Info: 254-6734.
—Alli Marshall, A&E reporter