Carrie Fisher is a successful actor, screenwriter, script doctor, and novelist. Yet to me her most impressive work has always been the evolving + creation and projection of her own forceful personality-that of an attractive, wry, scarred but self-deprecatingly amusing survivor of every terrible thing that can befall a child of Hollywood excesses. That this hyperaware daughter of Debbie Rey-nolds and Eddie Fisher comes across-on talk shows and in interviews as well as in the pages of her own books-not only as a bountifully talented and well-connected professional but also as a real woman who is appealingly accessible and vulnerable is an overlooked achievement on her resume. It’s also a great credit to all the hard work she has had to do to sort out a private life that often causes her torment.
I say all this to put Delusions of Grandma in perspective, because it is impossible to read anything by Carrie Fisher the novelist without thinking of the Carrie Fisher who is all of the above: Her pages are filled with such bright, spiky, idiosyncratic images and locutions that the reader can easily imagine the writer while reading the words. As a result, the reader carries a reservoir of goodwill toward the work. Those who liked Fisher’s first two books-Postcards From the Edge, which drew on her battles with addiction, Hollywood high life, and Mom; and Surrender the Pink, which drew on her frequently botched romantic life-will look indulgently to her newest roman a clef for more funny swipes at heartache. Indulgence may be required.
In Delusions, Fisher becomes Cora, a Hollywood screenwriter involved in a romance with Ray, a lawyer. ”Some parliament of her pheromones had just named him pope, and she was doing all she could to keep her cardinals from sending up the telling puff of white smoke from her hair,” is how Cora feels when she first falls in love. They consider marriage and are drawn closer together while Cora nurses a friend dying of AIDS, but ultimately they split up, even though Cora discovers she is pregnant with his child, a girl. (Fisher’s daughter, Billie, is 1.) In the final portion of the book, a pregnant Cora and her mother spirit Cora’s senile grandfather out of a nursing home and take him to the Texas town where he was born. Meanwhile, famous friends whom I might recognize if only I had the secret Hollywood scorecard drift in and out in sketch form.
The swipes are there, and the wit, and the requisite heartache. In fact, her writing has never been sleeker or the turns of phrase more unrelentingly sparkling. But what’s missing is the necessary requirement of a successful novel: structure and plot. This is a troubling development-and one that points up the serious limitations of fiction that relies so heavily on the chronology of real-life events.
There is charm with a vengeance in Delusions, and expectant-mother mush, too: lots of letters to the unborn child signed ”Your motel” and ”Mom Sequitur.” But there is no momentum. There is no shape. There is, instead, a flagging of energy, as if Carrie Fisher the novelist were running on Automatic Punster while Carrie Fisher the real human being was understandably exhausted and in no mood to concentrate after the end of an affair, the death of a friend, and the birth of a baby.
Because Fisher’s persona makes her feel like a friend, this friend wants to do this: give her a hug and tell her to relax and make some stuff up. I’ll still be impressed. Maybe even more so. B-