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Wishful Drinking

Read this web-exclusive book review by Evelyn Renold.

You wouldn’t think that Carrie Fisher—child of Hollywood, sometime actress, and tart-tongued scribe—had too many secrets left to tell. The daughter of Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher, she is perhaps best remembered as the bizarrely coiffed Princess Leia in the original Star Wars movies. More to the point, she has chronicled her own thrills and spills in four semi-autobiographical novels (the most famous of which, Postcards from the Edge, was made into a movie starring Meryl Streep).

Now comes her first actual memoir, Wishful Drinking, adapted from her successful stage show of the same name. A slender volume, with lots of pictures, the book is not all new: I spotted a couple of lifts from Fisher’s most recent novel, The Best Awful (2004), and there may be others. But never mind. Wishful Drinking is good, not-so-clean fun, and there’s enough fresh dish to propel you along.

Amusing and caustic, Fisher blithely tells tales out of school—about herself, her family, and the many boldface names she has known. She talks about having “makeup sex” with her ex-husband, the singer-songwriter Paul Simon, and getting some weed that “did me in” from one of her costars. (A semi-recovered addict, Fisher says she started smoking pot when she was 13.) For Christmas one year, her mother gave her a vibrator.

There’s lots of good Star Wars lore too: on the first day of filming, Fisher writes, she was wearing her character’s signature white dress when the director, George Lukas, approached her. “He takes one look…and says, ‘You can’t wear a bra under that dress.’ So I say, ‘Okay, I’ll bite. Why?’ And he says, ‘Because…there’s no underwear in space’…Like he had been to space, and he didn’t see any bras, panties, or briefs anywhere.” Instead of a bra, Fisher turned to Gaffer’s tape for support.

Wishful Drinking is not all wisecracks and tittle-tattle. Fisher’s writing can be insightful, even affecting, especially when the subject is her mother, an eccentric yet stabilizing force in her life, or her younger, improbably born-again brother, Todd. In the book’s prologue, the author soberly tells how electroshock therapy—undertaken to correct a severe mood disorder—changed her outlook, forcing her to “rediscover who I am.” But Fisher, 52, doesn’t stay in contemplative mode for very long. While she acknowledges the real pathos in her life, she doesn’t dwell on it.

The book, constructed as a series of loosely connected set pieces, goes into high gear with Fisher’s hilarious account of how her parents’ marriage unraveled. While most baby boomers will remember the headlines—Eddie weds Debbie, leaves Debbie for Liz Taylor, gets dumped by Liz for Richard Burton—the devil is truly in the details. Fisher writes: “When Mike Todd and Elizabeth got married, my father was Mike Todd’s best man and my mother was Elizabeth’s matron of honor! She even washed [Elizabeth’s] hair on her wedding day.… Later I heard my mother mumble that she wished she washed it with Nair…” Fisher is merciless on the subject of Eddie, whom she depicts as an absentee Dad and a chronic womanizer (she refers to his autobiography, Been There, Done That, as "Been There, Done Them"). Her own ex, Paul Simon, gets gentler treatment: “[Director] Mike Nichols used to say we were two flowers, no gardener,” she writes, as good a description as any of a two-career Hollywood marriage. Superagent Bryan Lourd, who fathered her daughter Billie then famously left her for a man, comes in for some gentle ribbing, though Fisher acknowledges that he’s been a good father to Billie, now 16.

Friends and acquaintances put in memorable guest appearances. Bob Dylan’s vanity is amusingly exposed in one story, while Cary Grant, a family friend of sorts, is affectionately portrayed in another. Then there is Carrie’s pal Greg, who died at her house (and in her bed), the victim, she reports, of an OxyContin overdose and sleep apnea. The Greg story appears early on and is used by the author to explain what amounts to her credo: that given enough time and the right “slant,” the shocking and tragic can come to seem funny and, as such, “can no longer do you any harm.”

Here and there you wonder if Fisher has embroidered a little on her show-stopping anecdotes. As if anticipating this reaction, she writes at one point, “Now, look, I know you might be thinking that a lot of the stories I’m telling you are over the top…but you can’t imagine what I’m leaving out!” Fair enough. Indeed, as Fisher reminds us more than once, movie stars and their offspring really are different from you and me. It’s to her credit, then, that she’s such good company on these pages, and that despite her glamorous/dissolute life, the reader is almost always rooting for her.

Evelyn Renold is an editor and writer who lives in New York City. Read her review of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

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