Julia Fox’s Memoir Is, In a Word, Confusing

Fox said she wrote Down the Drain without a ghostwriter and edited it herself. And wow, does it show.

Julia Fox’s Memoir Is, In a Word, Confusing
Photo:Jose Perez/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images (Getty Images)

If you want to understand why Julia Fox is famous, the answer’s in her new memoir, Down the Drain, but it’s largely between the lines. She is a show-off (I mean this as a compliment) who seems to have no capacity for shame. She recalls an incident in her young adulthood, after an inebriated sexual assault, when she bought “a douche for my vagina, using it between two cars.” Sharing that in her memoir suggests that the douching in public simply was not public enough for her. Elsewhere, she grouses about “being purposely excluded from the conversation when I single-handedly started every trend of 2022.” She seems to have no self-consciousness about telling on herself; showing (with words, that is) is another, more fraught matter.

Finding one’s bearings as a reader of Fox’s prose is a challenge that lasts the entire book. I have to assume that this is somewhat by design. Drain’s style is free-flowing and chatty—I sense that she’s aspiring to classic messy-aesthetic memoirs like Jim Carroll’s The Basketball Diaries and Cat Marnell’s How To Murder Your Life. Fox is, above most things, stylish, and in the subgenre of celebrity memoirs, few entries have been this chaotic. Her lack of remorse, in aggregate, is astounding. In her book, she lies, steals, cheats, and revenge-fucks. She tells her grandfather she needs money for an abortion (that she then uses on an airline ticket). After she beats up a friend (one who we learn eventually OD’d) and is shown the facial bruises she says, “I don’t feel bad for you.” She gets thrown out of a weekend house rental and then posts on Craigslist, inviting people to “Come right in and take what you want!”

Detrimentally, Fox writes in the present tense, which leaves no time in her fast-paced dawdling for reflection. As a consequence, it’s hard to wrap your head around who Julia Fox is now. Does she stand by these decisions? Is there regret? Does she really think that slicing neighbors’ screens to let their cats out on the dangerous streets of New York City is “innocent,” or did she just think that as a child when she was doing it?

Much of Down the Drain is spent on her chaotic childhood running around New York—when she finally sees Larry Clark’s notorious 1995 flick Kids later in the book, it’s hardly a surprise that she relates. Fox, though, has a very strange idea of what’s interesting. For every potentially life-shifting event she details (like an overdose), there are more that are merely mentioned. She glosses over things like an apparent eating disorder (“We spend the next week at my mom’s apartment chain-smoking weed and binging-and-purging Nutella”) and a borderline personality disorder diagnosis (this is only revealed in a flashback to the scene in which she was briefly committed to New York-Presbyterian). Conversely, she goes very deep into incidents that, however impactful, don’t have much bearing on the story, like her friend Trisha throwing a mug at her bedridden mother, and another friend’s seemingly counterfeit suicide attempt. The book’s string of names, each of which comes with very little description, makes it hard to keep up with Fox—it’s a mostly anonymous revolving door of people that she attaches to extremely quickly and, just as quickly, stops talking about. They often say things that read like they were torn from a b-movie script: “Listen, you little brat, I’m a gangster, whether you like it or not. Maybe I overestimated you. Maybe you’re not cut out for this lifestyle.” And so does she: “It’s called spousal support! I was with you for five years! I gave you the best years of my life and if you don’t take care of me, I promise, I will make your life a living hell!”

Fox told the New Yorker’s Jia Tolentino that she wrote Drain without a ghostwriter and edited it herself, and it very much reads like that. As is, readers are left on their own to sort through the pile, like shoppers at a vintage pound store. That’s a bummer because there are moving and evocative passages here, it just requires patience and endurance to get to them. Fox clearly has a story to tell—her book is dedicated to three of her friends who died of drug overdoses and late in the book, she forms a daisy chain of despair by recounting these tragedies:

I think about how when I found out about Katharine’s OD, I was also in a makeup chair on the set of Uncut Gems. Gianna was there to comfort me then. And when Gianna OD’d, Chris was there to comfort me. And when Chris killed himself, I took comfort in my friendship with Harmony, in those stupid, silly memes we constantly traded that took my mind off things. Now Harmony is dead too. What did I do to deserve this?

She evinces a similar lucidity when talking about her brief gig as a dominatrix in New York. That job tapped into her natural skill as an actor and her willingness to charm by any means necessary:

I become a jack of all trades, adapting quickly is the nature of the job. If a client wants electrical play, suddenly I’m a master electrician. If he wants piercings, suddenly I’m the most experienced piercer there ever was. I never turn down a job. I revel in the fact that I can be anyone at any given moment. I transform into your mean mommy, an evil nun, the bitchy popular girl in high school, all in a day’s work. My strong intuition and excellent improvisation skills keep the job interesting and the money rolling in.

But these are rare snatches of coherence in a narrative tangle that typically lacks the kind of establishing shots that allow us to understand what on earth she’s talking about. The book opens by thrusting us into the world she was thrust into at six years old: the Big Apple. She’s there with her father and we have no idea why her mother isn’t with them or what her father does for a living. Pages later, we can kinda sorta cobble together her mother’s absence (the last time they were all in NYC together, they were effectively homeless and that brought her mother to her “breaking point,” though she does, inexplicably, rejoin her family in the big city later). We’re never told what her dad did, just that he had “job sites” and at one point, was hired to do a renovation (he was a contractor). The very basic facts that could help acclimate readers to Fox’s unique worldview are simply missing.

Frustratingly, her ascent to fame is barely chronicled in the jumpy and lopsided memoir. She becomes a fixture of New York’s downtown scene (a regular at “CrowBar, Hanger Bar, Mars Bar, Mama’s Bar, Kate’s Joint, Max Fish, Lit Lounge, Pyramid Club, Iggy’s, Boss Tweed’s, and Blarney Cove”), her face is on a billboard and then i-D and Dazed are printing supposedly viral stories about her. (The latter, about her 2015 art book Symptomatic of a relationship gone sour: Heartburn/Nausea, “crashes the site,” Fox reports. “The journalist texts me, ‘I’m not supposed to tell you this but you broke the record for the most clicked article on our site!’”) Then, in a blur that’s shoehorned into the last fifth of the book, there’s her star-making turn in Uncut Gems, a “generous” salary for Steven Soderbergh’s No Sudden Move and, of course, the relationship with Kanye “Ye” West that bumped her star up another notch or seven. Notably, West is not named in the book (he’s referred to as “the artist”), but his controlling behavior on Keeping Up With the Kardashians is referred to, making the anonymizing pointless. It’s but a bullet point in a list of odd choices here.

Fox’s scene-setting tends to be overly (read: unrealistically) detailed down to a cat’s ear perking up when her grandmother and aunt are arguing. Her dialogue prattles on and on, suggesting that she has either a photographic memory or a vividly mundane imagination. Take this conversation with her friend Rossana, for example:

“Are you mad at me?” I ask her.
She pauses. “No! I could never be mad at you. I’m just so busy—”
I cut her off. “I saw you have a boyfriend! He’s really cute. How did you meet him?”
“Ace?! He’s not my boyfriend. We’re just hooking up.”
“Don’t lie to me!”
“I’m not!”
“Do you like him?”
“I guess. I’m just so over people asking me about him, to be honest.” Ouch.
“Okay, well, I just wanted to check in, you feel so far away.”
“I am far away.”
“That’s not what I mean.”
“You left, Julia. I don’t know what to say. I have to live my life too.” The conversation stalls between awkward moments of silence.

The verbiage is routinely perplexing—the aforementioned aunt is “usually always” with her and her grandmother. Fox encounters menstrual pads that are “industrial-sized”; she is able to “lock eyes” with a man in sunglasses; a void is “prolific”; people “side-eye me up and down”; she uses the word “confliction.” She also has a tendency to use four adjectives to describe sex. One session is “hard and fast and soft and slow,” another is “sweet passionate lustful orgasmic,” and yet another is the “messiest, sweatiest, raunchiest unprotected sex of my life.” Receiving oral sex leaves one partner “covered in my juices” and another “completely glazed in a layer of my fluids.”

A childhood friend she describes as having green eyes on Page 32 has blue on Page 33. At one point, she describes getting tattooed and pierced with a friend as tweens: “We are twelve years old but my dad says we are worse than the girls in the movie Thirteen,” she adds. “He laughs and thinks it’s funny.” The thing is, though (as noted by an eagle-eyed Goodreads reviewer), Julia Fox stopped being 12 on February 2, 2003, and Thirteen wasn’t released until August 20 of that year. It did make its Sundance premiere on January 27, so unless her dad flew out and back in that five-day window, this anecdote is nonsense.

Individually, these are minor quibbles; together they erode the grittiness and readability of a book that’s trying really hard to impress. Fox’s lack of introspection further does a disservice to her story by making it come off as superficial. If she doesn’t care to analyze, why should her readers? For example, there’s no reflection on why she stays getting involved with terrible men—those who abuse her in public and private, including the aforementioned Ace (she gets with him despite his past involvement with her friend). Perhaps it comes down to the example set by her father. As a child, Fox writes, he would lock her in her room when he went to work: “If I have to use the bathroom, I go in the cat’s litter box.” With her trademark gloss, Fox mentions physical abuse: “Sometimes he’s funny and caring and easygoing and sometimes he breaks a chair over my head for something as bizarre as not wanting to read the Bible because he decided he’s religious overnight.” Her father steals money from her and gives terrible advice to her and her childhood friend: “Look, girls, I gotta tell you this for your own good… Do not smoke that PCP angel dust. It makes hair grow on your brain. Weed, heroin, cocaine… all that shit is fine. But stay away from that angel dust!”

And yet, he’s accepted when he shows up after she gives birth to her baby, and her book is dedicated to him (alongside the friends who OD’ed). Why is anyone’s guess, but that could be said for virtually everything Fox tries her hand at describing in Down the Drain.

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