Ariel Leve doesn’t name her mother – we can Google and find out her name of course – but I guess it’s a gesture around dignity; proof that this isn’t a Mommy Dearest-styled hatchet-job memoir; in fact it’s about memory, recovery and growth, about understanding and conquering, rather than just telling us that she had a godawful mother. We get plenty of clues around that though. When a grown Leve is at an industry dinner she makes mention of her mother – it gets back to her, via a shared editor, that one guest said on meeting her: “I always wondered how that little girl would survive. I thought her only choices were suicide or murder”. Jesus!
Leve’s mother was a well-known New York writer – she mixed with all the celebrities of the day, had Andy Warhol over for dinner, worked and/or partied alongside the likes of Saul Bellow, Normal Mailer and Philip Roth and was praised for her work as a poet and feminist filmmaker.
She was also, by this account (and that of at least one editor), a terrible mother. Deluded, insecure, in absentia – the worst kind of emotional neglect and abuse was piled on the young Ariel Leve; forced to re-enact her childbirth by crawling out from between her mother’s splayed (naked) legs when the poet was riding one of her highs, told that her father never loved her, told to keep quiet when ‘art’ was happening…
You might turn several pages in a rage, but Leve’s prose is beautifully measured here – in support of the book’s title (and theme/s) this is a set of vignettes almost, prose-poems even; little recollections from Leve. She consults her father, her father’s ex-girlfriend (who checked in on her and wrote to Leve’s father to update him on the situation) and she writes vividly from her own recall.
The book – a therapy-piece, in at least one sense, might be triggering for some, but it is also (surely) helpful. This is a unique story after all. And Leve, a gifted writer, has a way with words and a style all her own.
The aim for Ariel is to avoid turning into her mother. She realises this – even though she was the parent in their relationship – when she becomes the de facto stepmother to twin girls. She can’t have them falling under a shade-cloth of sorrow as happened for her. In this responsibility and awareness she seeks therapy, the book-writing being a part of it.
It’s an engaging read. You might want to grab the mother by the shoulders and shake her, or, you know…metaphorically at least…
But there’s a subtle strength here.
It’s a surreal ride sometimes and a world that not many could have known or experienced. A real case of the highs being so high, the lows being among the lowest.