In our starstruck, Kardashian-addled culture, carrying a famous name often entails navigating a maze of other people’s preconceptions. Those dropped by an accident of birth into a famous family may find themselves arbitrarily courted or resented by virtual strangers, who assume they inhabit some glamorous world untouched by workaday realities.
Longtime Taos resident Allegra Huston is the living refutation of any such glitzy illusions.
She shares her surname with three generations of Academy Award winners: Actor-singer Walter, legendary director John, and actor-director Anjelica. But this Huston has lived on her own since her early teens and has earned her living by her own considerable wits.
Her work history includes decades of skilled book editing, a world that no one familiar with the publishing industry would call glamorous. In recent years, while still shepherding other’s manuscripts to publication, she has begun carving out time for her own.
“Love Child,” a candid, poignant memoir, was published in 2009. In 2011, a screenplay, “Good Luck, Mr. Gorski,” became a multi-festival-winning short film, made in Taos with local actors and crew and directed by “Cortez” writer-actor Arron Shiver.
Huston’s first published novel, “Say My Name,” has recently been released in the United States. The author had readings from her book at two Taos venues: The first was Jan. 25 as part of the 25th volume of Pecha Kucha Taos at the Taos Community Auditorium; and at the book’s “official” Taos release Jan. 27 at Op.Cit. Books in Taos.
“Say My Name” tells the story of a romance between a woman “of a certain age,” and a man in his late 20s. In Huston’s illumination of the couple’s intimate world, explicitly written erotica is interwoven with equally explicit, fearlessly expressed emotional intelligence and vulnerability.
“It sounds a little strange to say that sex is underrepresented in literature,” Huston said. “It’s as much a part of life as drinking and eating and all the things that have been considered a measure of good writing. I tried to describe sexual experience from feeling. Not from a mechanical, ‘what goes where’ perspective, but from an emotional, sensual perspective. It’s weird that it should be unusual to write directly about sex in this way. In so many cultures, including our own, it seems we cannot portray passion without portraying ‘overwhelm’.”
Huston spoke of a gender bias that has pervaded much of the literature of passion. “Men aren’t culturally conditioned to be unable to function at work when they’re in the throes of romance, so why are women supposed to be disoriented to that extent? So in this book, rather than passion overwhelming the heroine, it clarifies for her where and who she is in life, what she wants to do, where she wants to put her energies.”
In response to the inevitable question posed to writers, Huston clarified that the relationship in “Say My Name” is entirely fictional, and in no way autobiographical. “I wish it was nonfiction,” she laughed. “Sadly, it’s made up. The emotions are true and mine, but few of them are my experiences. Fictional circumstances, real emotions. I wrote a love story from a fantasy. The fantasy was to be the kind of woman who had one of those famous songs written about her — like Eric Clapton’s ‘Layla,’ or Mick Jagger’s ‘Angie.’ That was the starting point for the book. But I wanted the woman to be basically ordinary, not someone you’d expect a song to be written about.”
Eve, the book’s “ordinary” woman, is a landscape designer coming to the end of a long-stale marriage. Her work with flowers is woven through the book with passionate, poetic symbolism as she rediscovers her own power and creativity. Eve’s lover, Micajah, is a musician and songwriter poised reluctantly on the brink of superstardom, and he does indeed write her a great love song.
“I didn’t want him to be like the classic hero,” Huston said. “I wanted him to be sort of searching as well. ‘Rock star’ is not his dream. That’s not who he is. Just as Eve is realizing that ‘safe suburban housewife’ is not who she is.”
When asked about the couple’s age disparity, Huston questioned the trend of applying words such as “cougar” to women in such relationships. “I know a lot of people who have been in this older-woman, younger-man situation, and in every case the man has done the chasing. So why have we developed this cultural meme that the woman is the predator when we can all see that the truth is the exact opposite of that?”
Much of the book is written in the present tense, in a seamless feat of writing prowess that creates a spherical, all-encompassing sense of timelessness.
“It just wrote itself that way, as it flows between exterior and interior monologue. No one in real life actually thinks in italics as people are so often made to do in novels. You think half thoughts that turn into movements, gestures, what’s going on inside our bodies and in our thoughts.”
The use of present tense underscores the ephemeral nature of this unconventional love story: a romance that resists any hint of happy-ever-after yet still manages to be as satisfying to the reader as it is to the protagonists. “It’s heretical to portray a happy relationship that doesn’t depend on some imagined future,” Huston said. “I didn’t want to suggest that the only happy ending would be that she has a man. When you have a relationship where both people feel seen for who they are, not for external reasons — that is a healthy relationship, no matter what the future holds. To be seen for who you are is an incredible gift, to give and to be given, and that’s what these two are able to give each other.”