All parents worry about the extent to which their children will expose their private weirdness to the world. They tell their teachers that Daddy takes his tea into the toilet and Mummy ‘actually pulled the car over’ for a closer look at the dead badger they passed on the school run. But the traumatic new memoir by the journalist Ariel Leve lifts the lid on a whole new league of maternal craziness. Although Leve disguises her mother as ‘Suzanne’ in this book, a quick google reveals her to be the poet and feminist film-maker Sandra Hochman.
When People magazine’s Patricia Burnstein visited Hochman’s ‘elegantly appointed’ Manhattan penthouse in 1976, it seemed that mother and daughter lived a loving bohemian idyll. Hochman spoke passionately about her faith in the sisterhood and recalls the years she spent in Paris, befriended by Pablo Neruda, Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir and Anaïs Nin. She gossiped about her ex-husbands (including Ariel’s father, a lawyer who moved to Thailand when his daughter was five), then described her eight-year-old daughter as ‘my best friend, my roommate’. Burnstein saw that Ariel’s room was ‘filled with books, stuffed toys and little poems her mother wrote to make table manners and other chores more palatable’. But looking back, in her mid-forties, Leve recalls that same bedroom regularly invaded by her mother’s friends: ‘a sanctuary for everyone but me’.
As feminism found its feet, women were still unsure where motherhood fitted into the picture. According to Hochman, childcare was a prison from which she freed herself by treating her daughter as an independent adult from the get go, confiding the intimate details of her sex life and blithely handing her into the care of strangers.
‘Your mother is one tough motherfucker, right baby?’ said the woman with whom Hochman made her famous 1973 film Year of the Woman, before handing the five-year-old Leve a lit cigarette to puff.