Lisa Schwarzbaum
February 18, 1994 AT 05:00 AM EST

If roseanne arnold wants to talk, I’m willing to listen. She says she’s the victim of incest, she says she suffers from an obsessive-compulsive disorder, she says she has screwed up her children and adores her surgically renovated breasts and nose and eyes, and I go, uh-huh. When she talks about untying her fallopian tubes, and about how she despises Hollywood I’m, like, okay. She makes as if she wants to create a threesome with her husband and another woman and then laughs the whole thing off as a hoax, and I’m, you know, fine. I’m willing to listen to her excessive, painful, even obnoxious, confessions and revelations for one reason: Roseanne is a genius who, using nothing but her pick-ax mouth, has knocked open the boundaries of acceptability for women comics. In Roseanne, her masterpiece of a TV series, she has created the funniest, most unflinching, best-written sitcom on the air today-a show (motored by a woman) that manages to combine domestic truths with domestic comedy. She’s a genius. And like many geniuses, she’s a troubled person. She deserves to be heard. But heard is the operative word. Roseanne herself narrates her new autobiography, My Lives (Ballantine, $23), in a three-hour, two-cassette, abridged edition on Random House AudioBooks ($17). And if you really want the full flavor of the story-I mean the fullest appreciation of the refined and redefined, singed and angry person who creates such original art-you have got to hear Roseanne’s actual voice performing her book. On paper, the book is a high-pitched screed; on tape, it’s a Great Performance-an extraordinary, angry aria, from her lips to God’s ears. Five years ago, when she was still Roseanne Barr, she published Roseanne: My Life as a Woman-a jaunty, likable thing dedicated to her sister Geraldine, with pictures and poems and lists and recipes dotted like sweet snacks among the salty chapters about her childhood in Utah, her marriage to Bill Pentland, and their kids, her feminist awakening, and the start of her comedy career. ”I want to live. I choose Life. I don’t wanna hate nobody. I wanna be nuts,” she wrote. Well, as Rosey would say, you can kiss that crock goodbye. The Roseanne who gnashes and brays in My Lives hasn’t spoken to Geraldine in almost four years. ”When I began to deal with my own incest issues, I had to cut my parents and sisters off. That is the best thing I ever did,” she snarls. The Roseanne in My Lives slashes and rages at her first husband. She hurls bolts of loathing at Matt Williams, the TV writer who received sole ”created by” credit for Roseanne. She attacks anyone who ever attacked her second husband, Tom Arnold. She tells shock-seeking stories about her early years working as a waitress (where, she says, she turned tricks in the parking lot), about her early fights on the set of Roseanne, and about her drug use. The language of My Lives changes with the subject. Opening and closing meditations on the author’s fragmented psyche are clotted with the language of psychotherapy: ”The parts of me that remembered had split off.” Or: ”I survived my childhood by birthing many separate identities to stand in for one another in times of great stress and fear.” Other segues are unnecessarily gooey with poetry: ”I rode the back of my spirit with hard spurs.” Roseanne gives them a good reading, but I don’t believe the words are hers. Hooting ”ya dumb bastard!” at Williams sounds more like the real woman at work-and she delivers the phrase with a bracing kick. Because her raw, chafed self has created a raw, chafing persona, we tend to forget that Roseanne Arnold has also turned into a dandy actress. Getting an earful of Roseanne speaking Roseanne provides unexpected insight-far more than her words convey on the page-into the Roseanne who, to her sole credit, created Roseanne. The book: C+ The tape: A

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