Sadly, some lives cannot be understood until after death. So it was with Anne Ford. A charming beauty queen, model, and fashion designer during the 1950s, this glamour girl was poisoned by internal demons and the permissive Southern California culture of the 1960s and 70s. She ended her life as an alcoholic street person, stabbed and strangled in a burned-out building in West Hollywood. Years later, her daughter, the writer Laurel Saville, began the long process of unraveling the twin trajectories of this unusual life.
Postmortem takes the reader on an emotionally charged journey that ranges from her eccentric West Hollywood childhood to a top-secret, Depression-era airplane design. Whether describing the artists of the seminal Sunset Strip gallery where Andy Warhol got his start or the hippie parties at Barney’s Beanery, Saville’s distinctive prose lends insight into events and emotions. This candid exploration of one woman’s life and death ends up exposing unexpected and highly-charged truths about both mother and daughter. (from Amazon)
What is with these parents from the 1960’s? Why were so many of them absolutely horrible? What was it about the 60’s that said “yes, go and be a parent but only in name, and don’t forget to traumatize your kids a couple of times a week so they’ll turn into famous authors later on,” eh?
The only bright point to all these memoirs is that the kid does, normally, escape relatively sane from his or her parental unit’s grasping claws of insanity. Laurel Saville is just such an escapee, and her book is one of the better examples of these kind of memoirs.
In fact, it’s a really good book. I was enthralled for most of it, and though I’ve found myself tired lately of all the “oh how my parent(s) fucked me up as a kid” memoirs that have come out in the past ten years, I nevertheless think this one is worth reading if only for passages like this:
But I always feel I need to say more. Like I need to put this information into some kind of understandable context, to explain my mother’s life by explaining how she got to her death. I want to help other people assimilate this news, help them get over it, or let them feel they’re helping me get over it. I sense I need to reassert myself, to show somehow that I’m the same person after they got this information as they thought I was just before they got it. At the same time, I don’t want to explain anything at all. I’m still just a little wearied by the fact that of all the burdens my mother put on me while she was alive, the worst one continues after her death, precisely because of the way she died. I also don’t want to say anything more, because I don’t feel I have what I imagine are the appropriate emotions to attend to this information, the expected sensations of loss, horror, and sadness. I never have and still don’t see either of us as a victim of her murder, or her murderer. I don’t really fully understand what it means to be the daughter of my mother, much less the daughter of a murdered woman, anymore than any of us fully comprehends the myriad ways our parents shaped us. More often than not, I simply say that my mother is dead. But then, I feel like I’m lying. Sometimes I say she was killed. But that’s dissembling. Other times, I say I don’t want to talk about “it,” or say, “Some other time. Over a beer or six.” But then, I’m hiding something. Not just something about her, but something about me.
Sometimes, I don’t say anything at all. Then I feel invisible.
I love how straightforward and blunt she is in the telling of her life with her mother. It makes the more horrific parts of her story somehow more bearable to read, and it makes the book move along really nicely. If you haven’t yet tired of memoirs by kids who have issues with their parents, I recommend picking up Postmortem and giving it a go.
Read: February 1, 2011
UPDATE: Postmortem is now being published by AmazonEncore and it is called Unraveling Anne! Same book, different title.