"Surrender the Pink" is about Dinah Kaufman, soap-opera writer, human catalogue of one-liners, and daughter of divorce. Her painful history with an absentee father has rendered the grown-up Dinah a woman who gets an erotic kick out of the unavailable man.
In this novel, her emotional resume is played out against her attempt to get back with her ex-husband, who is now not just emotionally absent but also geographically out of reach in a love shack on the East Coast. Of course, Dinah had left him in the first place. For her, once a man becomes available, the thrill is gone and the threat is present; she talks tough and is unable--in the parlance of men's magazines--to "surrender the pink," a phrase that translates as "spread your legs" or, to put it more universally, "give it up."
Oddly enough, in a book littered with cute epigraphs culled mostly from Zoology 101, this particular invocation is not used once. Author Carrie Fisher (a Hollywood baby whose first book, "Postcards From the Edge," is now playing at a theater near you) seems to have reserved discussion of its meaning for interviews (which is where I got the news). But, as the author writes of her protagonist, "Dinah talks in explicit code--it's a neurosis that ultimately fails."
Which is unfortunate, because few modern writers have traveled the tricky turnpike of father-daughter relationships. In her zeal to be clever, Fisher speeds past this car wreck of Dinah's past, craning out the window just long enough to give us this provocative, yet far-too-faded snapshot:
"Whenever she saw him on his once-a-year visits, she'd put on her best behavior so he'd love her. Because she hardly ever saw him, he grew daily in her mind, a paternal tumor on her imagination. She loved--she worshiped--the father she made up in her mind. The father she created in fantasy grew more intricate with each passing day, until finally she had created two monsters--the father she had never had--and the daughter he should never have left."
This is a lovely passage, and no doubt, an effective movie pitch, but in a novel whose title is evidently some sort of mirror-writing, the reader needs to know exactly why the heroine is unable to show her secret side. What happened during those once-a-year visits? Did Dinah and her father go away for the afternoon? If so, where? And what about the rest of the year? Did Daddy remember her birthday? Were there letters? What was promised? And what was not delivered?
These are important details that Fisher does not reveal directly, preferring instead to refract Dinah's past through witty dialogue, observations and soap-opera scenes. This results in a main character who is hobbled not just by her own vaguely outlined fears but also by a persona that parallels the narrator's. Dinah's "Look, Ma, I'm being witty" style of talking is not unlike Fisher's "Look, Ma, I'm writing" style of narrating; both are infused with a relentless display of knowledge and high-IQ commentary.
Certainly, this is Fisher's strength. "Surrender the Pink" overflows with many memorable lines, such as "If you like people for their minds, how great can the sex be?"; "She felt sad and caught. Caught in the tractor beam of her obsession"; and this wonderful capsule of the difference between men and women: "Boy meets girl--boner. Girl meets boy--marriage, perfect life."
These remarks are the product of a quick mind at work. Which brings me to the cute zoological epigraphs, also the product of quickness, and a certain unwillingness, or hesitation, to slow down (again, like the narrator's dilemma, Dinah's as well). Each section of the book is introduced by a description of the mating ritual of various creatures, including the sparrow, fish, polecat, spider, bat and hippo. Within the novel itself, reference is made to the training of homing pigeons, and the mating habits of swans, wolves and black widow spiders. Any of these members of God's Kingdom, preferably a vertebrate, could have served as the single metaphor for Dinah and her activity with the opposite sex.
But the passages could just as easily have been excised. For they really serve no purpose other than to build to the final epigraph. Fisher rings down the curtain with a statement that is guaranteed to get a knowing laugh from the crowd that's so vain it probably thinks this book is about them: "The female human being, given a certain unseemly interpretation of her childhood, specific to the absence of the male parent, will tend to fixate on unavailable males in her maturity . . . some recover by mating with friends and learning to 'love' them. The rest remain fairly successful in daytime television."
In other words, the result of a malfunctioning father-daughter relationship is an unwitting Bartleby the Scrivener, a character who likes neither her work nor her life, who might as well be toiling at the dead-letter desk in the post office. Since she is driven not by passion or desire, Dinah Kaufman is fueled instead by personality tics. When those can no longer propel the novel, the author resorts to such devices as the writers' strike of 1988, which provides the idle time for Dinah to run after her ex-husband.
It's unfortunate that Fisher the actress was unable to tell Fisher the writer that a character cannot possibly be motivated in such ways. And evidently editors, who may be going the way of the ozone layer, were unable to bridge the gap. So what the reader gets is a novel that surrenders no colors of the behavioral spectrum--just jokes, interesting asides and evocative vignettes.
If only Dinah had been permitted to escape the tomb of her mind, to flash just the tiniest bit of her secret self, even if she then closed forever like a cold-water clam! At least the reader would have known why Dinah is sealed by her fate, would have seen her struggle to overcome it.
But as it stands now, Dinah is entombed not by herself but by her creator, a stand-in who is unable to "surrender the pink." Or, perhaps, to paraphrase Bartleby, "the narrator would prefer not to."