Sunday, January 15, 2012

New Year, New Celebrity Memoirs

It is telling that my first two reads for 2012 were celebrity memoirs about a descent into, and a rising from alcoholism/addiction. I'm not sure what that says about me, but it must say something.

I read "Wishful Drinking," by Carrie Fisher and "High on Arrival" by Mackenzie Phillips. I had great expectations of both of these memoirs going in for the following reasons:

1) I know Carrie Fisher has written novels, and she's funny and for crying out loud, she was Princess Leia;

2) All I knew about Mackenzie Phillips is that her dad created The Mamas and the Papas, she is an actress and probably has lots of good stories about celebrities, and I think I remembered a scandalous rumor that her story involved incest.

I assumed that I would like "Wishful Drinking" more, because I prefer writing with a bit of cheek and because I already knew more about Carrie. But I was WRONG. Explanation below.

Wishful Drinking

By Carrie Fisher

In case you grew up under a rock, or are immune to pop culture, or just don't give a hoot, Carrie Fisher is the daughter of Debbie Reynolds (have you SEEN Singing in the Rain? She's beautiful, fun and a great singer) and Eddie Fisher, who famously left Debbie Reynolds (STUPID) for Elizabeth Taylor, who then left him for lots of other husbands (also he later married a few others). A dramatic separation of the parents when a child is really young is enough to make any childhood dysfunctional. Add in the fact that those parents are famous, that her father was largely absent, that she grew up surrounded by celebrities, and that fame and stardom came at a young age for Carrie, it seems almost inevitable that she would become an alcoholic.

I mean, obviously there must be a lot more to it than that, but that's the simple premise Carrie puts before us. That's all the explanation we really get. There is no introspection, there is no description of her thoughts or feelings as she descended into a large pit of alcohol. We're given the facts stated above, and we are told that Carrie is an alcoholic. Accept it, and move on.

It would be one thing, if Carrie was just trying to be positive about the fact that she is now in recovery. But I don't think that's all it is. I got the feeling that she didn't want to let the reader in - she didn't tell us anything about what it was like for her - she just asks us to use our imagination. We can't celebrate her victory over alcohol, because we don't know how much of a victory it is. We're told it's a victory, and that's that. We can't feel bad for the terrible things that have happened to her or because of her, because she remains distant - like she's telling the story of someone else.

It's not that she doesn't have some good stories - she does - but she doesn't really tell them. She just tells us that the story exists. She just says that one morning there was a dead, naked Republican in her bed. There's got to be a lot of background that led up to that, but she glosses over it. There must have been a lot of fallout from that, but beyond an obvious statement, we don't get to see it.

I was disappointed in her failure to let the reader in - I mean, why write a memoir about your life if you don't plan to reveal anything? BUT having said that (kind of redundantly I notice as I reread the above), Carrie Fisher is still exceedingly entertaining. She's funny, quirky and self-deprecating. I did laugh several times. I would love to see her show. But I'm guessing she doesn't put much in her show that's not in this book.

Bottom Line: Entertaining and fun, but unrevealing look at a celebrity's alcoholism.

High on Arrival

By Mackenzie Phillips

I was also surprised by this memoir. It is dark, let me tell you - the exact opposite of "Wishful Drinking." Mackenzie does not leave anything out, and her life has been one dark, tormented, and emotional whirlwind. Where Carrie didn't let me in at all, I got lost in Mackenzie's world - I felt everything she did, and I understood each justification, and I felt the triumph of each success.

A little background: Mackenzie's dad was John Phillips - a great genius in the world of music, but a TERRIBLE father. He was a prolific drug user, and had absolutely no boundaries when it came to pleasure seeking. He wasn't going to let a little thing like worrying about his children get in the way of a good high. He gave Mackenzie a lot of drugs. He taught her how to shoot cocaine. He also didn't let a thing like a blood relationship with his daughter get in the way of sexual pleasure.

But Mackenzie, after telling us all of this, wants us to be sure that we don't totally vilify him. He is an exceptionally talented musician, and he loved his family - all his children and wives - very much. The things he did were not done out of malice or evil tendencies. They were the acts of a very sick, very twisted man who was unable to realize a lot of the harm he was causing. I'll buy this to some extent, but it's hard not to vilify someone who would invite his teenage daughter to stay with him in London, and then leave her in a house with no food or heat for a week while he got high in the country with Mick Jagger. And that's just one of the mild stories.

I wanted to read this memoir because I knew it contained a lot of juicy stories and dropped a lot of names. I was not prepared for the emotional impact it would have on me. Mackenzie is very brave to be putting all of this out there. She addresses every public scandal - drug arrests, behavior that sabotaged her acting career several times, etc. - and every private misdeed - intravenous drug use while pregnant with her son, cruel treatment and use of friends in search of her next high, destruction of all relationships and her many failings as a mother.

But she doesn't just tell stories. She explains her mindset at each moment, and describes how her addiction distorted her view of the world. This makes the reader understand how it is possible to become something so hideous and low, and how unlikely it seems that someone would be able to get out of that position. That's why I was so happy to celebrate her recovery with her. What a deep pit of disease to crawl out of! And no wonder it took several attempts at sobriety to get out!

In the end, I loved this memoir because I respected Mackenzie so much for her openness and honesty, as well as her explanations of the way an addict thinks. I'm no stranger to the world of addiction, but I received quite an education from this memoir. I will think of this memoir often in the future.

Two Celebrity Addiction Memoirs, two very different reads - one light, one dark; one in-depth, one shallow. Though I clearly preferred Mackenzie's book, I appreciate the fact that both women are willing to talk about their lives and their addiction, and to help foster the discussion of addiction so that education and understanding can be spread.

1 comment:

  1. Hi, I'm in this challenge and thought I would visit a few others in the challenge also. So Carrie is Debbie R. daughter. I loved Debbie as an actor. Not revealing that part of her life can definitely lead to disappointment but I guess she figured it was not directly part of her life, HMMM anyway, not Mackenzie, that's a novel. on my list. Great review.