I love Carrie Fisher’s performance in the original Star Wars films, and in The Force Awakens; her eyes in particular slew me. It was her appearance on 30 Rock, however, and her sharp, wild and funny chat show appearances on Conan and The Graham Norton Show, as well as her comments on Hollywood, that made me want to read her books.
I began with Postcards from the Edge (1987). It’s very good. It’s a fragmented sort of narrative that reflects its title; it begins with a set of postcard texts that suggest disorientation and desperation, and ends with a letter from the main character, actress Suzanne Vale, to the doctor who pumped her stomach. In between lie a stint in rehab, where Suzanne’s bitter, questioning, and funny voice has a counterpoint in the stream-of-consciousness from Alex, a Hollywood screenwriter who is constantly deciding to quit cocaine and then rewarding himself for his abstinence days later with cocaine. His denial of his problems, and his simultaneous need to impress everyone and blithe obliviousness to the real thoughts and feelings of anyone around him, as well as his final painfully hilarious paranoid breakdown in a Ramada Inn in Burbank could be a warning about what could happen to Suzanne if she doesn’t pause to deal with her wounds rather than self-medicating them; or it could be a satire of a borderline-dystopian Hollywood where the pressure is to consume everything apart from food, and self-destruction is bankable.
Suzanne’s own story is rather low-key in comparison to Alex’s hectic arc from denial (“Sometime’s it’s fun. I don’t know, Freud took it, so how bad could it be?) to a dodgy deal to rehab to relapse to rehab to a screenplay for a movie called Rehab! Her focus is more of a meandering, reflective, journey towards learning how to be without drink and drugs, learning how to be around other people, and let herself be in a normal, functional relationship. While this might sound overly earnest, it really isn’t–the incisiveness of Fisher’s voice is never lost, as she skewers the Hollywood–and by extension cultural–obsession with appearance, pretensions of executive producers and condescension of agents and the mind games played by commitment-phobic men (“Sometimes I think I should marry one of them and just fuck around. […] I would certainly be discreet, like I was very discreet when I was with Jill, my last girlfriend. True, she did find out, but not for a long time. And she didn’t leave me because of it. She left me because I gave her crabs–remember?”).
Fisher is unsparing when it comes to her heroine’s insecurities and misguided notions about her own appearance and her relationships, but Suzanne’s portrayal is warm as well as witty, and I found her to be an engaging, complex woman. I really enjoyed Postcards from the Edge, particularly as there’s a great eighties vibe that reflects its context; as well as the cocaine, there’s the lack of mobile phones or email, fashions and the references to the great stars of the day (“‘I heard she blew Don Johnson,’ said the woman who liked seasons.”)