Julia Fox tries to make sense of her notorious past

Why is Julia Fox famous? Your guess is as good as hers. The actress and model has worn many hats in her 33 years — including fashion designer and dominatrix — but says she is wary of the title “celebrity.” She writes in a new memoir that fame always felt inevitable, but isn’t something she sought out.

You could join Fox in splitting hairs between “famous person” and “celebrity,” the latter of which, she suggests, requires a level of intention. But it might be most precise to describe her a third way: notorious. In New York, she’s been inescapable, whether as a chaotic teenaged force in the party scene or when her face showed up on “Missing” posters her parents put up after she ran away from home. She more recently appeared in Harmony Korine’s Supreme ad campaign, dressed in a seductive flight attendant costume.

Her ascent to fame accelerated over the past several years, thanks to her supporting role in A24’s critically acclaimed anxiety attack “Uncut Gems” — the 2019 film in which she plays Adam Sandler’s headstrong love interest, a character inspired by Fox’s life — and a romantic dalliance with the rapper formerly known as Kanye West. But Fox’s book, “Down the Drain,” only briefly engages with these developments, which turn out to be some of the least compelling aspects of her story. This isn’t the type of celebrity memoir filled with frivolous name-drops and flimsy anecdotes; it’s a revealing and often harrowing journey through the life of a person who has been reviled, adored and victimized — and also just happens to be recognizable.

Fox writes casually and in the present tense, as if she’s telling her story to friends and trying to transport them to each moment in time. And yet it remains clear as Fox parses her history — which encompasses numerous abusive relationships, extensive drug use and more than one overdose — that she maintains an emotional distance from much of what she writes about. In many cases, such as when she recalls her father’s physical and emotional abuse, she turns what she endured into a teachable lesson, clearly stating what she learned from the pain.

“It’s impossible for me to flourish in an inconsistent hostile environment, especially when my own growth is so intertwined with his,” she writes. “I’m forced to face the unsettling reality that the people who are supposed to protect us are sometimes the same people we need protection from.”

Fox has taken time to reflect. She became a mother over two years ago and writes that the experience made her more empathetic toward her father, who stepped up for his grandson. She spots parallels between herself and her mother, an emotionally fraught woman whose father helped raise Fox and her younger brother in Italy for a portion of their childhood. Fox acknowledges that those cash-strapped years informed her deep desire to be rich. She once prayed for a sugar daddy, and found one.

But as “Down the Drain” gets closer to the present day, and Fox revisits her failed marriage to her son’s father and back-to-back deaths in her chosen family, her habit of trying to tie up loose ends works to her detriment. As a writer, she pushes herself toward tidy emotional resolutions she doesn’t appear to be ready to feel. This stands in stark contrast with the moments she allows raw emotion to spill onto the page, such as when she details her frustrations with the press.

“In every interview, I’m asked the same questions over and over,” she writes. “All they want is their next viral sound bite. And none of them ask me how I’m doing after so much loss. … They take my words out of context and twist them around to make me seem dumb. Sometimes I just want to disappear, but I can’t. I have nothing to fall back on, no family wealth, no rich baby daddy.

“I just have to keep going and prove that I’m more than what they make me out to be.”

Fox, while known for her candid nature, is still a public figure with an image to uphold. She went viral last year for describing her book as a “masterpiece.” While it may not be a grand literary achievement, she projects an admirable confidence. She knows how she wants to be seen, and how to get there.

For someone who claims she doesn’t want to be a celebrity, Fox is pretty good at being one.

Down the Drain

By Julia Fox

Simon & Schuster. 336 pp. $28.99

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