Reviewing: Wishful Drinking

My husband and I were wrapping up episode three of our Star Wars marathon when I logged into my phone and saw the news that Carrie Fisher had passed away. I was shocked,wishful_art heartbroken. It seemed so sudden and unexpected, I could barely wrap my head around it.

And then I found myself reaching for my copy of her memoir, Wishful Drinking, with the desire to learn more about this person who was such an icon for so many, and had just recently become that source of inspiration for me as well, (as I was in the process of becoming a Star Wars convert during our marathon.) I hadn’t really known much about Carrie Fisher, other than her role in Star Wars, until I heard about this memoir being released years ago. I made a note on my to-read list and forgot about it until now.

I had never seen her stand-up shows or followed her life very closely, but now, knowing what I do about her upbringing, her struggles with mental illness and addiction, and her desire to laugh through the pain, I wish I had found her sooner.

Wishful Drinking is a disjointed puzzle of her chaotic life growing up with celebrity parents, becoming a princess and subsequent feminist/science fiction icon, battling addiction in the face of mental illness, and trying to build a somewhat normal life through her dry humor and abounding love for her family.

In the beginning, Fisher tells us a little of what it is like to go through electroconvulsive therapy, and come out the other side not recognizing what your own life is, or what it has been. I found this part of the story extremely interesting, 1) because I didn’t know that this kind of therapy was actually still a valid choice for those suffering from mental illness and, 2) because the disconnectedness that Fisher felt from the therapy set the tone for the entire book, as if the readers themselves, had come out of electroconvulsive therapy and had been dropped into memories of Fisher’s life as flies on the wall.

Fisher spent a large part of the memoir explaining the complicated history of her parents — how they met, how they worked together, and how the scandals unfolded, leaving Fisher and her brother with the famously beautiful and sweet Debbie Reynolds with whom they would confront life for the rest of their time.

One of the cruelest twists of fate came the day after Fisher passed, as Reynolds followed her beloved daughter and best friend in death. I have to be honest, I think one of the only things I’ve seen of Reynolds was her work in Halloweentown. Shameful? I guess you could say that. But I can’t help but feel like I’ve lost another grandmother — growing up watching Reynolds turn spells and defend Halloween just burrowed into my heart at a young age and stayed there. Now, I feel so drawn to these two powerhouse women that I want to read and watch anything about them that I can get my hands on.

1422240146_462201260_debbie-reynolds-carrie-fisher-zoomBut, back to Fisher’s memoir.

I found the relationship between Fisher and Reynolds, as described in the book, one of friendship and colleagueship rather than the traditional mother-daughter dynamic, which I found extremely interesting. In the beginning, it seems Fisher emulates her mother, but after securing her role as galactic Princess Leia and forger her own path in life, she becomes a sort of compliment to her mother — an outspoken, rough-hewn comedienne to Reynolds’ sweet and graceful, classical film star.

If you are looking for a first-hand account of working with George Lucas and acting in Star Wars, you may be a bit disappointed. I had assumed this book would focus largely on that period of Fisher’s life, but it was more of just a cameo with a special anecdote about the lack of underwear in space. Although, I have to say, I love how Fisher describes how her image essentially became the public’s (and adolescent boys’) property. Her feelings about this were something I always wondered about, but instead of being angry or bitter, Fisher laughs it off as ridiculous and embarrassing for those teenagers doing things in the dark.

Instead of focusing heavily on her addiction, it seems Fisher’s main goal is to talk about her mental illness and how it has affected her life — often leading her back into addiction. This is always an incredibly brave thing to talk about, especially when you are a person of such high renown. But the way she talks about it is at once no-nonsense and delicate — she does not beat around the bush about the negative effects that bipolar disorder (non-medicated) can have on a person and the people around them, but she also reaches out to readers, saying, “You and I are not alone in this.”

She tells you the facts surrounded by well-placed and hilarious one-liners that do exactly what they are designed to do: make you see past the stigma. There’s a wonderful quote from the book that I think shows exactly why Fisher has become the hero she is to so many, outside of her slave outfit: “One of the things that baffles me (and there are quite a few) is how there can be so much lingering stigma with regards to mental illness, specifically bipolar disorder. In my opinion, living with manic depression takes a tremendous amount of balls. … At times, being bipolar can be an all-consuming challenge, requiring a lot of stamina and even more courage, so if you’re living with this illness and functioning at all, it’s something to be proud of, not ashamed of. They should issue medals along with a steady stream of medication.”

Lovely.

I think Fisher touches on a lot of important subjects in this story, and I really love the humor she uses to tell each anecdote. But, with the exception of her parents’ love life, everything else seemed so disconnected that I found it hard to latch on to much of what she was saying. Some of the messages got lost at times in a swirl of stream-of-conscious paragraphs and misplaced, humorous jabs. And while I appreciate the overall style of the book (and I absolutely love Fisher’s dark and witty voice),  I wish there had been a bit more continuity to the entire story, rather than jumping from past, to present, to middle and on again with no real leading timeline. I like linear stories, I guess, what can I say? This book might need a second read, but in the meantime, I would recommend this book as a supplement to further reading on the lives of both Fisher and Reynolds. This is just a small piece of the story. I want the whole picture, and this book has given me a tantalizing taste, urging me to read more.

What did you think of Wishful Drinking? How does Fisher’s writing confront the idyllic image of Princess Leia, as well as the stigma around mental illness? What can we learn from Fisher’s mentality about dealing with self-constructed adversity? Let’s talk.

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