Monday, January 2, 2017

The Pen is Mightier than the Lightsaber

Before 1987, the late Carrie Fisher's friends, family and co-workers probably knew she was ironic, witty and had a sardonic eye on life that went well beyond her years. But the rest of us knew her primarily as Leia Organa, the heroine and leader of the Rebel Alliance against the Empire in Star Wars. She had some key roles in other well-known movies, like Hannah and Her Sisters and Shampoo, but her enduring image was the brave, no-nonsense freedom fighter from that galaxy far, far away.

Then Simon & Schuster published Postcards from the Edge and everything changed. The book is the story of young actress Suzanne Vale as she attempts to put her life together following a nearly fatal drug overdose, and is considered loosely autobiographical. Fisher's own problems with drug abuse and a similar overdose and rehab stint were fairly well-known. Her later diagnosis of bipolar disorder and the challenges it presented would get their treatment in later books, but at the time Postcards was published, that was all yet to happen.

But far from being just a lightly-veiled memoir, Postcards does the double duty of showing Suzanne trying to reconstruct both her self and her life as well as casting a slanting satiric eye on the fame machine of Hollywood. "Maybe I shouldn't have given the guy who pumped my stomach my phone number, but who cares? My life is over anyway," the story starts, and never loses its threads of either honesty or humor. Fisher switches between first-person "journal entry" sections and third-person narratives, and adds in point-of-view pieces from some other characters as well.

As befits a character undergoing rehab and therapy, Suzanne spends a lot of time introspecting, both to herself and to others. She doesn't spare her own shortcomings and failures from her mocking edge, making a reader wonder how much easier things might be for her if she were a little easier on herself, which may very well be a question Fisher asked her own mirror now and again.

Postcards offers a hilarious and sad look at how a person seeking her self in the entertainment industry's culture of emptiness and superficial reality is left to make that self, only she's got nothing for tools and material except that same emptiness and superficiality. Her lucky landing of a good therapist gives her something real to work with until she finally learns she is something real she can work on, and then go forward. Again, that probably echoes a lot of Fisher's own experience, and though her own journey forward from her time in rehab was neither straight nor simple, she did manage to put together a life that let her thrive and create before ending too early last month at 60. If Postcards is just a chronicle of the start of that life, then we can be grateful it is funny, entertaining and poignant. If it also was somehow a tool Fisher used to help construct the life she was able to live, then I'm all the more grateful for it.

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