All memoirs are essentially about ageing.
It is a natural and therefore unavoidable sexagenarian instinct to lean in to the past – in search of explanation, amusement, forgiveness. However, almost no autobiography you have ever read is – let’s put it out there – persuasively reliable. Perhaps the knowing reader silently nods at every half-fumbled but very obvious evasion, all the Pollyanna Pollyfilla that covers the cracks of pain and disappointment, the casual casuistry that gets us all, specially the grey and the balding, through the remains of the day. Perhaps it’s also true that the mightier the celebrity of the author, the weaker the credibility all round. Who was it said that you must not touch your idols since the gilt is bound to be left on your fingers? True too for the reflective persona, an idol unto itself.
All this said, we are here to cheer ourselves almost hoarse for Miss Aluminium, Ms Moore’s visit home to her childhood in Hawaii and the beginnings of her anabasis through the Hollywood of the 60s and 70s almost to her later status as a popular author.
The first thing to note, the thing that runs like an unstoppable klaxon through the entire story, is that the youthful Ms Moore was something of an unstoppable beauty. The title references her determination to move away from beauty-pageant gawping to audiences who would appreciate her observations about life and people – in effect, her intellect. The journey brings her the seemingly automatic acquaintanceship of Dean, Warren, Jack and much of the rest of the glamour gang. But however charmed her life seems, the hope for a decent love is perma-vexed – while regret over her mother’s pained life and premature death is always there to pixilate the LA sunshine. Men do not come out well here, least of all her father from whom she learned “cribbage, chess and betrayal” but alas “not much else”. Hers was a time when sexism had not been invented and the phrase Me-Too could speak to only the lascivious gluttony of rich, well-connected and often heart-throbby males. Clearly, that world no longer, er, exists.
Ms. Moore can, in fuller flow in the final chapters here, write beautifully – with more than a happy feel of FSF and Updike on the keys. It’s strange that she dislikes The Alexandria Quartet but nice to come over a not unfavourable reference to A Dance to the Music of Time. No hippie dilettante, she has plainly hung around a lot of gifted prose designers – perhaps instinctually parading her well-thumbed bookshelves as a diversion from too great a focus on her much photographed face. But on meeting one famous person she concludes : “he was sometimes so tirelessly at ease that I wondered if he made no distinction between one person and the next”. Attracted to another, she notes that “his impatience prevented him from a modesty and even humility that would only have illuminated his brilliance”. Whatever truths are ultimately at work, prose like this – and there are many examples here – always gets the sizzle going.
Of the Sixties, soon enough, there will be little folk-memory. It will all be as remote and as alien as the early years of steam travel. Jack Kennedy will be remembered in the way Franz Ferdinand is now. Cielo Drive, Route 66, the New Jersey Turnpike, the dock of the bay… will be long since, now that we are all born to be wizened, washed of resonance. Miss Aluminium personifies all that wandering innocence that the decade was to confound. The description of her sessions with, inevitably, a therapist in, inevitably, Beverly Hills captures the sad zest of the whole memoir. In the hope of anxiety-depletion, she hears the therapist conclude with : “Thank God your mother loved you”. It is the kind of assumption that probably gets millions of wrinklies through the trouble that drilling into so much calcified memory, so much pavor nocturnus, can cause. Maybe not much to hold to your bosom. But…
Look back in anger and remorse. Why did you not keep that friend? Was it your fault – in spite of what you have told others – that the relationship soured? Did you take the road less travelled when, as you now know, you should have stayed behind the picket fence? Just who was it who really loved you? Can nostalgia ever be an optimism? If you have a regret that will not leave the inner mumble, can you still do something about it?
Ms. Moore shakes it down. It is a fabulous book.