I was just shy of eight years old when Star Wars hit the silver screen in May of 1977. Like millions of young girls, I wanted to be Princess Leia. I spent many an afternoon in my pink room pretending to program an invisible R2-D2 (white beanbag chair) with a secret message for Obi-Wan Kenobi. (“Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi! You’re my only hope!”) What can I say? I was an only child, and I was Star Wars crazed. My obsession only grew with the release of The Empire Strikes Back in 1980 (which I saw so many times in the theater, I could talk along with the film). By then I was almost eleven, and even though boys were not in the picture yet, Harrison Ford certainly was. “You’re a scoundrel,” I would say to Han Solo (pillow). We would kiss (me and the pillow). It was all quite heady and romantic.
For all that, though, my most vivid memory of Carrie Fisher was at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, 1983. We were enduring a rather soggy (but still wonderful) Simon and Garfunkel concert, being lashed by the tropical rains produced by Hurricane Alicia, when Paul Simon brought his new bride on stage and introduced her to the crowd. It was a lovely, sweet moment. They would be divorced less than a year later.
Published in 1987, Postcards from the Edge, Fisher’s first novel, is semi-autobiographical, following the character of actress Suzanne Vale through a stint at rehab and her first year of recovery. The novel is really more of a series of sketches. It opens with a few postcards from Suzanne to her friends and family, and then moves immediately to her thirty days in rehab, going back and forth between Suzanne’s journal (in first person) and the story of a cocaine addict named Alex (also in first person) who is in the rehab with her. Alex is so unbelievably paranoid, egotistical, and annoying that if you were standing with him near a cliff and he were telling his story in person, you would probably just go ahead and push him off to put you both out of your misery. Suzanne is focused on her recovery, and Alex is mostly focused on Suzanne, the only person in rehab he sees as “cool” as he sees himself, although he can’t work up the nerve to talk to her. The back and forth can be a little disconcerting (I disliked Alex so much, and I kept wanting to get back to Suzanne), but it does a good job I think of showing the mindset(s) of people in rehab, but also how Hollywood makes a fetish of the damaged:
Suzanne: In our culture [Marilyn Monroe, Judy Garland, Montgomery Clift, Lenny Bruce, Janis Joplin, John Belushi] are heroes. There’s something inside of that—a message that killing yourself like that isn’t so bad. All the interesting people do it, the extraordinary ones. A weird, weird message. Most of the people I’ve admired in show business—comedians, writers, actors—are alcoholics or drug addicts or suicides. It’s bizarre. And I get to be in that club now. It’s the one thing I cling to in here: Wow, I’m hip now, like the dead people.
Romancing the stoned.
Alex: This is so Not Hip. I don’t mean everything has to be hip. This is probably good for some people, but …Look at these people. I have nothing on common with any of them, except Suzanne. She’s been here a couple of weeks now. She seems like she’s really into this, but she’s an actress. Actresses can seem like they fit in anywhere. I’m mainly just gonna just talk to her. It would be great if we fell in love. That would show them, if I came back from the drug clinic with Suzanne Vale as my girlfriend.
The next four sections are all in third person, following Suzanne through her life after addiction as she tries to stay sober and navigate Hollywood and the movie business. She dates a sex-addicted producer and visits her therapist; she takes a part in a low-budget buddy cop movie being shot in the desert near her grandmother’s house; she attends a party and then takes to her bed. The reason I mention all this is because it seems like the book is a bit of an experiment–not in an Eco/Calvino/Pynchon postmodern sort of way, but in a new author, not-sure-how-I-want-this-all-to-work-on-the-page sort of way.
It’s a bit uneven, but it’s a first novel. Suzanne is insecure and funny. You like her and root for her all the way through the book. You want her to stay sober, you want her to meet a nice guy, you want someone to offer her the part of a lifetime. Fisher makes Suzanne a very real person in a crazy world that’s bent on make-believe, and it works. It’s like Entourage meets Lorrie Moore—Hollywood through the eyes of someone who has a superb sense of irony, even about herself.
One of my favorite parts is a conversation Suzanne has with her grandmother, basically about who she was when she was little, and what she should be now that she has grown up. Her grandmother calls out the generational differences: in her day, people picked a thing (or a person) and stuck with it; in Suzanne’s day, anything goes. Nobody wants to work hard on anything; they expect things to be easy. This part especially resonated with me:
“I’m one of those people who believe you do whatever you set your mind to,” her grandmother said. “But, that being said, I think some people have an easier time setting their minds down than others do, and your mind seems to hover. Your brother seems to have his head out of the clouds, but yours is right up there in them. You always read too much, always had your nose in a book. A bookworm. You just don’t seem to have a level look on things, and I don’t know if you can get that or not. Maybe you could just live with it. I don’t think it’s such a bad thing. Certainly there’s worse.”
I also liked the section where Suzanne takes to her bed, and eats and watches bad movies on cable. Her best friend Lucy comes over to join her:
“Remember what it was like when you’d be getting ready to jump rope,” she asked, “and two people were turning it, and you were waiting for exactly the right moment to jump in? I feel like that all the time.”
“I keep thinking that we’ll grow out of this,” said Lucy.
“Grow out of it?” said Suzanne. “How much growing do you do all of the sudden after thirty?”
“Maybe it’s a hormonal thing,” Lucy offered.
“Maybe it is food allergies,” said Suzanne. “Maybe my mom’s right. Maybe this is all tuna.”
“Could we be having a nervous breakdown?” Lucy asked. “A controlled nervous breakdown?”
“I don’t know,” Suzanne said doubtfully. “I’m not that nervous, and it’s not really a breakdown. It’s more of a backdown, or a backing off. A pit stop. That’s what we’re having, a nervous pit stop. A not-so-nervous pit stop.”
Overall, this was an entertaining read. Fisher writes dialogue well, and she’s funny. I should note: the book is quite a bit different than the movie. Suzanne’s mother has the tiniest bit part in the book (she offers to send her maid over to clean Suzanne’s house and fix her something to eat), while in the movie the mother-daughter relationship dominates the story. Fisher wrote the screenplay, so it’s interesting how the story changed focus. I haven’t seen the movie since it came out in 1990, but I would be interested in watching it again now that I’ve read the book. I can see why she had to re-work it, because as I said earlier, the book is really more like connected stories or sketches—I just think it’s interesting that Fisher picked a thread for the screen that’s almost non-existent in the book. Beyond that, I definitely plan to pick up another of Fisher’s novels, Surrender the Pink, and perhaps her memoir, Wishful Drinking.
This was my “Letter” pick for the 9 for ’09 challenge. Only two (and a half—I’m halfway through Drinking Coffee Elsewhere) more books to read for that one, and I’m finished!