Don't Call Me Home: A Memoir
“Don't Call Me Home reads acutely; Auder's descriptive account is visceral and not withholding.”
Alexandra Auder is the little girl staring cross-eyed and alert from the duotone cover of her new memoir, Don't Call Me Home. Auder’s mother, Janet Susan Mary Hoffmann, also known as Viva, the Warhol superstar, is also pictured staring off into the distance.
Auder's coming-of-age memoir begins at the scene of her birth recorded by her father, the French filmmaker Michel Auder. Images from the home movies launch Auder into existence—baby Alexandra—a prop on the culturally relevant set of the Chelsea Hotel. From the start, it's a given that Auder's upbringing will be unconventional—the Chelsea, Warhol, the films and influences of the time coalescing and conflicting with the tradition of motherhood and coming of age in New York City in the 1980s.
With a mother more infamous than famous and a filmmaker/video-artist father, several years of Auder's upbringing is captured among family and found family. There were relatives in the picture, principally her mother's multiple sisters. Yet following a violent family brawl and legal disputes over property, and after Viva and Michel's divorce, Auder more or less becomes head of household, often caring for her mother and baby sister (Auder's sister is actress Gaby Hoffman).
Although she doesn't outright declare it, the burden on the young Auder is quite extreme. She is a pre-teen carrying the responsibilities of an above average adult. She is her mother's confidante in all matters, from romance to family crises. Once, with her mother's permission, Auder takes her infant sister to a slumber party—not as a plaything, but as the baby's primary caregiver she’s responsible for everything. That is, except breastfeeding. Defeated and distraught, Auder is sent home in a cab with the hungry, crying baby in the middle of the night.
In hindsight, Auder's mother believes she gave her children their freedom and granted them the level of independence they desired. In all its extreme vulnerability, such freedom indeed provided Auder with life lessons learned early, such as moving on from boy crushes to sexual experiences with older (some famous) men.
Like many a memoir, the central motif is a mother-daughter dynamic beyond a contest of wills, questioning and confronting the intentions and outcomes of life along the way. If Auder goes after "the truth," it is with caution and humor, knowing that Viva's is uniquely, and sometimes conveniently, her own. However, Auder's gift for detail and language argues and advocates very well for her own version of the truth.
Don't Call Me Home reads acutely; Auder's descriptive account is visceral and not withholding. However, it is not a simple indictment of negligent parents or an airing of dirty laundry. Auder holds space for her mother as a woman in an era freshly one generation removed from women's traditional roles. The memoir is reflective, looking back at certain life events from the perspective of the girl who lived it, and has grown up to become a working mother and wife herself.
The past is in the past, but Viva is ever-present, often rolling like a shitstorm into Auder's and Hoffman's imperfect but intentional and functioning lives. Viva's take on domesticity, "I don't know how you two do it at all, you poor things," stirs Auder's unspoken defenses:
"You poor things means we are martyred. You poor things means she thinks we are like her. You poor things means she thinks I'm saddled with a lazy bastard husband, or that Lui is a slut, or that Miko is spoiled. Your poor things means she wants to commiserate with us about how much work we have to do. We will not commiserate! This is life, bitch! You couldn't handle it, but we can! Look at us doing it all!"
Sometimes there's a sensation of waiting for something to "happen." But just like life, it is creepily, constantly happening. Much of Auder's story is laugh-out-loud funny, but it also barely stops short of a horror movie in which the heroine attempts to slay the monster with a dagger, its corroded edge dulled by forgiveness.
For Auder, there's the good—creative and kind people filling in the gaps providing much-needed stability. And a deep maternal love for her younger sister sustained them both. There's also the bad; the people who are supposed to protect you are predatory, negligent, and self-serving.
Don't Call Me Home can be taken as a warning or a wish. It is absolution—a don't look here for anything resembling home because you won't find it—and an expression of the desire to remain at liberty. However, Auder seems more than aware that there is no relinquishment, no complete autonomy or severance from the places and people we have ever truly loved.