“I become a jack of all trades, adapting quickly is the nature of the job […] I’m a master electrician […] I’m the most experienced piercer there ever was […] I revel in the fact that I can be anyone at any given moment” writes Julia Fox, the multi-hyphenate “It” girl to end all multi-hyphenate “It” girls. Fox is, of course, referring to her time as a dominatrix. And this is just one of the many rawer-than-raw anecdotes that Fox, with unrivalled candour, tells the reader of her memoir Down the Drain. Anecdotal might seem like the wrong way to describe the contents of Down the Drain given just how much of it is tinged with aching trauma. But what Fox does so beautifully in her memoir is downright refuse the role of the victim: though it never compromises when it comes to depicting the darkest depths of the author’s existence, Fox’s injections of humour means Down the Drain never ceases to be a joy to read.
The memoir starts with Fox arriving back in New York City – a place she’s “no stranger to” – at the young age of six. But we don’t meet the same infantilised, naive narrator we often get in memoirs (the first sections of Jennette McCurdy’s I’m Glad My Mom Died comes to mind). Rather, Fox adopts a voice that’s charmingly precocious from the jump. She describes how her younger self ponders on feeling “insignificant and inconsequential” and states outright that “[she’s] going to be rich” when she grows up. Fox’s all-knowing narrator probably isn’t for everyone and that’s because it doesn’t follow the usual (somewhat boring) structure of a typical memoir: chugging along, picking up nuggets of wisdom on the way that make for a neat, sequential growth of character. In this sense, the self-assured voice on display in Down the Drain is something of a triple threat. Not only does it mean we can withstand reading about what happened to Fox – things which, in a less artful memoir, might feel just too much – but we begin to understand how her experiences have eroded away a more innocent voice.
The voice given to Fox’s formative years is so self-assured, in fact, that it’s quite easy to forget just how young she was when she experienced what she did. And this is exacerbated further by the fact that Fox seems to avoid bringing attention to her age each time a new tragedy occurs. Though this can sometimes be disorientating, it’s a move from Fox that shows she’s not in the business of cultivating depthless shock value or mining her traumas in order to present them in the most horrific way. These things just happened.
Down the Drain being completely devoid of self consciousness is what makes it so brilliant. Fox doesn’t spare the gritty details, talking of injecting heroin next to a toilet “overflowing in caked-up shit”. She says what others wouldn’t: as she wraps up the segment on 9/11, she candidly shares her longing for her dad to have taken her along to film the wreckage. Fox even risks isolating the reader by never skimming over the realities of her abusive relationships, making sure to depict each and every time her and her partner reunite (no-matter how many times it happens). Fox lays it bare, never letting up in telling the reader how it proceeded to get worse. In Down the Drain, the truth is never scrubbed from the narrative to create a good “arc”.
You don’t need to have experienced what Fox has in order to find a hint of you in Down the Drain either. Though it could be construed as Fox simply recounting her experiences, that would ignore the fact that Fox has done the invisible work of cherry-picking those with the most universal resonance: stories and minutiae that touch on love, power and the ebbs and flows of friendships.
And it’s another feat of Fox’s that no-one she encounters in her memoir fades into the background or is made to seem small in comparison to her innate glow. The world-building undertaken by Fox extends far beyond herself, giving equal time and attention to each of her friends (and often her enemies). In particular, the affection she has for her female friends spills from the pages, making Down the Drain a book about the enduring power of female friendships as much as it is a memoir. Fox also does a wonderful job of expressing her fondness for each of the places we visit in Down the Drain. My favourite part of her memoir is when Fox recounts her time spent in New Orleans, where the author is simultaneously at her most carnal and her most gentle.
The memoir does rush a little to reach its conclusion, but it does so in a way that feels, from what we now know of her, typically Fox. To fully delve into what it means to be a “slave to the male gaze”, something she brushes over towards the end, isn’t really her job. It is, however, to unabashedly state that she “single-handedly started every trend of 2022” and she, of course, throws in the term “gremlin voices”. Really, I just didn’t want Down the Drain to end — and though Fox has said explicitly that she wasn’t looking to write a War and Peace-esque epic, she should probably know that I (and many others) would absolutely eat it up if she did.
In an interview with The New Yorker, Fox admitted that though she never “wanted to be famous, [she] just knew that [she] would be”. Having read Down the Drain, it’s clear that not only is her fame more than well earnt, but that she’s in possession of an even more elusive quality: she’s cool; and it’s in that unique and coveted way where it doesn’t come at the expense of her warmth and approachability. In summary? When Fox said that her book was a masterpiece, it wasn’t just because she was high. She was stating facts.