Carrie Fisher’s latest offering, the cleverly titled Shockaholic, is a markedly similar follow-up to her Wishful Drinking, which was released in 2008 and eventually parlayed into a successful one-woman show on Broadway. For those who are partial to Fisher’s sharp and acerbic take on things, her sense of the absurd clearly derived from first-hand experience, Shockaholic (if not exactly shocking) doesn’t disappoint.
In this slim and admittedly self-indulgent collection, the novelist/actress (Princess Leia in a long-ago and far-away Star Wars incarnation), reprises her riff on an often surreal life as child of Hollywood stars, ‘50s sweethearts Debbie Reynolds and singer Eddie Fisher, in an anecdotal memoir that could have been titled “Before I Forget.” (For the majority of those too young to remember, her parents’ marriage ended when her father ran off with screen siren Elizabeth Taylor, quite the scandal in those days.)
The name of the book is a play on her recent experiences with electroshock therapy, a treatment that has proven successful in her ongoing struggle with bipolar disorder (a subject covered in her novel, The Best Awful). It comprises the opening chapter, where Fisher goes on the record about the amnesiacal after-effects of ECT, as it’s called, which results in loss of short-term memory. (She admits to “blanks” at various stages throughout the volume.)
In typical Fisher fashion, she finds humor in the madness: ”One could argue that by having regular ECT treatments, I’m paying two – that’s right, two – electric bills. One for the house and one for my head.” But on a more serious note, she adds that it “punched the dark lights” out of her depression.
“Wishful Shrinking” is about her battle with the weight issues that led to a high-profile rescue by the “S.S. Jenny Craig.” (“Being the poster girl for enormousness is not anything any kid grows up aspiring to.”) To her credit, she admits to the commercialism of her gig as a JC spokesperson, with the apologia that, “I mean, there’s a lot of other things I could do for money. I could sell autographed ECT machines or rhinestoned mood stabilizers or even Star Wars scented laxatives.”
The best piece is tagged “The Senator,” about a decades-old dinner engagement that Fisher shared with her date (and later lover), Connecticut lawmaker Chris Dodd, and that icon of American politics, Ted Kennedy. Colorful and well-written (she alludes to Kennedy’s “alert and aristocratic eyes”), she describes a memorable evening that turned into a bit of a showdown, triggered by the senator’s more than subtly salacious and unexpectedly inappropriate questions after having a bit too much to drink.
If a lot of the previous Wishful Drinking was about Fisher’s mother, the chipper kewpie-doll actress Debbie Reynolds, who’s mostly absent here, Shockaholic is at the end a wistful tribute to father Eddie, who passed away in the fall of 2010. “Puff Daddy,” as she nicknamed him (Fisher had an affinity for marijuana, and a photo of him lighting up is classic), reentered his daughter’s life late in the game, and she paints a picaresque portrait of the man she never got to know as a child, but with whom she developed a close relationship in his declining years:
“Near the end, he was doing all he could to get to know me, everything from hugging me tighter than any man had hugged me in my life to calling me fifteen times a week. I mean, if when I was young, I had gotten even one of those calls a month, I would have been over the moon.”
When he told her in his last months that he “wished he had her life,” the daughter replied, “You did, Daddy. That’s why you’re in bed.”
Another great Fisher line, one amongst many in this short but lively compilation that displays much of her characteristically biting wit.
[First published as Book Review: Shockaholic by Carrie Fisher, on Blogcritics.org.]