Book Review : Heartfelt, Original Outtakes From the Life of an Actress
Postcards From the Edge by Carrie Fisher, edited by Paul Slansky (Simon & Schuster: $15.95; 218 pages)
Everyone knows Carrie Fisher for her portrait of Princess Leia in the film “Star Wars,” and all those other movies. And everyone knows her royal Hollywood lineage: the daughter of Eddie Fisher and actress Debbie Reynolds. And no doubt lots of readers will buy “Postcards From the Edge” because of those facts, and all the promotional fallout that comes from them.
But a couple of things come to mind when you get about 50 pages into “Postcards From the Edge.” You wonder, thinking back, why Carrie Fisher--why she didn’t grab your mind as you watched the screen, the way her mother did. And it occurs to you, Carrie Fisher’s heart might not have been in it. You deduce this fact because her heart appears to be in this novel and in the writing process. This book is so much better than you think it’s going to be! It’s intelligent, original, focused, insightful, very interesting to read.
But if you were an antique dealer, you’d have to devote some attention to this novel’s “provenance.” This is the first novel I can think of that gives an editor “billing” just under the author’s name. Still, it’s very hard to believe that Paul Slansky is the mind or heart behind this book. And you certainly can’t credit him with the plot or structure, because the book has little of either. Carrie Fisher has to be in there somewhere, and one way or another, she can be proud of this accomplishment.
Tough Look at Reality
“Postcards From the Edge” can be compared to “Less Than Zero.” It almost requires this comparison, because it’s about young Southern Californians, drugs, addiction, the good life and death. But “Postcards” starts from the “hellpit” and cautiously takes the reader back to something resembling normal life. This is not an inspirational novel, but something on the order of a tough look at reality; a “serious” piece of work.
Movie actress and celebrity, Suzanne Vale, after an overdose of Percodan, ends up (or begins a new life) in a rehabilitation center. On the sixth day of her stay her mother visits her: “I told her I was miserable here, and she said, ‘Well, you were happy as a child. I can prove it. I have films.’ ” Suzanne aches with the pain of simply being in a drug clinic, but in a series of journal notations you can see her begin to get a grip. In the old days, she used to “take LSD and pain killers . . . I was into pain reduction and mind expansion but I ended up with pain expansion and mind reduction. Everything hurts now, and nothing makes sense.”
The real distinction here is not between addicts and the people who are straight and sober, but between the intelligent people and the dorks. Suzanne’s companions in the clinic are a mixed lot, but one of them, Alex, is--the real word for him can’t be used in a family paper; jerk will have to do. Alex is a seething cesspool of arrogance, self-deception and grassroots stupidity. At one point, after walking out of the clinic and scoring an outlandish amount of cocaine he checks into a Ramada Inn, already stoned to the eyes, and orders up from room service: “ . . . I’m fine. Let me sign for this. Let’s see, six Long Island iced teas, two Smirnoffs, hamburger, French fries and cake.” Nothing good can come from this magic evening or this magic meal, and Alex soon ends up back in the clinic. But the point Carrie Fisher makes here (or is it that pesky Slansky fellow?) is that even the jerks of the world can “recover” from some addictions.
Once back on the outside, Suzanne--her addictions having narrowed down to doughnuts with icing and diet Coke--begins once again to pursue her love life and her career. The chapter on an unromance with a sleazy, charming, intelligent womanizer; their dates, and then their separate visits to their respective shrinks to talk their non-relationships over (and Suzanne’s final conclusion that, despite external appearances, she’s the one who’s using him to keep from getting along with her life) is cocky and bright.
Sobering and Sad
The outtakes from the life of an actress are sobering, sad and--again, the word keeps coming back-- interesting.
Will Suzanne ever fall in love, get married, live a normal life? It’s an iffy concept, because she’s been programmed to like swine: “I know boring men are the ones to go for but all I can see is the light glinting off the edges of the interesting ones.” There is no reason for any woman ever to hook up with a nice man, especially if the woman is inhabited by a “sleeping giant” who picks on every little fault the nice men have.
But putting things off, or pain-killing it all the way, is not the answer. In a long discursive chapter, where Suzanne and her best friend count up every reason not to have a happy life, fate (possibly) clicks in. The normal world suddenly becomes a viable option.