Monday, April 16, 2012

Review: Wishful Drinking - Carrie Fisher

My Mum and Dad were two thirds of the Brad, Jen and Angelina of the '50s.  I love them both despite their flaws.  I did Star Wars.  I married, then dated Paul Simon.  A lot of his (depressing) lyrics are about me.  I have a sense of humour, which is a really good thing.  I was addicted to a whole bunch of drugs and alcohol.  I wrote a novel about it, and my famously dysfunctional family.  A gay friend of mine once died in my bed which gave me PTSD.  My second husband left me for another man, which messed with me even more.  Through all this, I was bipolar, but didn't know it.  When I did, I received electroshock therapy, meaning I can't remember much.  I'm now under treatment and living a more centred, normal life than ever before.

This may as well be Carrie Fisher's book Wishful Drinking, a text adaptation of her successful one-woman stage show.  Really, without much exaggeration, the paragraph above could well represent the entire lightweight 150+ pages.  It's patently a cash-in from the stage show, which was was designed to be a humorous recollection of what led her from famous parents, through Star Wars to Simon, addiction and commitment to various asylums.  Unfortunately this sight-gag-reliant, disjointed and vague approach is acceptable (even desirable) in a spoken word performance, it falls flat as a text.

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The other reason for this eclectic authorship is a result of Fisher undergoing electroshock therapy for mental illness.  This means she simply doesn't remember much of her life, as the treatment rendered whole chunks of her past are a virtual nonevent.  Being unable to recall much of one's life has the capacity to make a memoir either oddly ethereal or painfully shallow.  Fortunately, Fisher stays mainly with the former and the book accurately represents what she remembers of her life - a series of unconnected events with their nascence stemming from a naive showbiz upbringing, early fame and drugs. 

She gets more serious - but not much, given her stated aim of finding humour in the blackness - when writing of her issues with mental health.  The book ends with a moving one-page tribute to those similarly afflicted, pleading for their everyday battle needs to be respected rather than shunned.  Fittingly and redeemingly, it is the most coherent and lucid page of the entire book.  The narrative style means Fisher's constant struggle with mental illness is danced around, but is the gravitas keeping the book from being not so much light as vaporous.

There is every chance my answer to the archetypal profile question "Who would you most like to have dinner with?" would include Carrie Fisher.  This would be for reasons of then and now.  (The second clip actually boasts many/most of the book's best gags.)  While the botox-free 1982 version would be welcome for re-living my childhood and teen years, the 2012 edition would provide a completely different perspective on almost every conversation.  As much as my teen self hates my 2012 version for writing it, this year's Carrie Fisher would take a seat at my table.  However, this still can't make me recommend her book too highly - marbles - it loses something in translation.  See the show instead.

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