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Shockaholic

Carrie Fisher

(Simon & Schuster; US: Nov 2011)

“What you’ll have of me after I journey to that great Death Star in the sky is an extremely accomplished daughter, a few books, and a picture of a stern-looking girl wearing some kind of metal bikini lounging on a giant drooling squid, behind a newscaster informing you of the passing of Princess Leia after a long battle with her head.”
—Carrie Fisher, Shockaholic


You might be thinking “Wait a minute. Didn’t Carrie Fisher write an autobiography called Wishful Drinking just a couple years ago? Why do we need a follow-up memoir called Shockaholic?” Well, because Wishful Drinking barely scratched the surface of Fisher’s bewilderingly unconventional (even by Hollywood standards) life, and gosh darnit this is America, where we’re just suckers for celebrity gossip, even if it’s a couple decades old.


With its compact length and size 14 font, Wishful Drinking was actually an adaptation of Fisher’s one-woman stage show of the same name rather than your standard autobiography, and its smattering of comical memories dressed to the nines with one-liners read as such. In many ways it was a total copout. Anecdotal and all too brief, Wishful Drinking didn’t deliver a focused account of Fisher’s strange tales as a one-time galactic princess and habitual drug addict so much as a typed-out standup routine that flashed from biographical checkpoint to biographical checkpoint in an erratic stream-of-consciousness style.


Fans hoping hoped for the juicy (read: stoned) behind-the-scenes stories from the set of Star Wars were more than a little disappointed. What they got instead was a bitter washed-up celebrity with daddy issues whose ferocious wit and self-deprecating personality compensates for her distracted storytelling methods and unhealthy obsession with her feelings.


As a followup, Shockaholic takes the more contemplative route, and Fisher smartly spends more time meditating on her relationships, mistakes, and awkward encounters than racing toward punch lines. As a result, Shockaholic is a more profound collection of humor essays than its predecessor, though we remain a victim of Fisher’s overly casual writing style and tendency to talk at the reader. But armed with a more appropriate font size and an unguarded gusto for wide-eyed sincerity, Fisher recalls the humorous side of darkness, and touches upon such issues as parental neglect, weight loss, death, celebrity “otherness”, addiction, and holding her own in an absurd battle of egos with Ted Kennedy.


There are few people in this world as comfortable sharing information about their mental illness as Fisher. A longtime depressive with bipolar disorder, Fisher’s experience with electroshock therapy in recent years served as the primary impetus for Shockaholic (if the title didn’t already tell you as much). As an unfortunate side effect of the treatments is memory loss, Fisher has cultivated a newfound attachment to her past since pockets of her recent history are disappearing with every trip to the shock doc. Therefore, Shockaholic switches on and off with the distant past and more recent present, ultimately drawing conclusions about what it means to be born into celebrity and the seeming inescapability of one’s public persona.


Shockaholic’s takeaway message, delivered through revelatory stories about Fisher’s childhood, mental illness, family dysfunction, and Michael Jackson of all people, is a simple lesson about learning to be okay with yourself. And as difficult as being okay with yourself can be for the Average Joe or Joann, imagine how difficult it must be for celebrities whose professional lives dictate who they are, or more accurately, who they must be? And for Fisher, who she once was is a teency bit of a problem, too.


Part of Fisher’s appeal—when she’s not constantly winking at her herself and the reader within a pair of parenthetical en dashes—are those occasionally candid and revealing nuggets about her family life and famous relationships, and her unyielding self-mockery. Fisher pulls no punches when describing the askew manner of growing up within Hollywood’s obscured reality where parents don’t act like parents, mothers are on TV more often than they’re home, and millionaire stepfathers with unforgiving flatulence don’t mind walking around without pants and underwear despite the presence of young stepchildren.


There’s an assortment of standout passages in Shockaholic in spite of the seeming overabundance of indulgent diary entries that didn’t get the requests for more drafts that they needed. One particularly strong chapter is when Fisher steps outside her own personal dilemmas to pause and reflect on the King of Pop, whom she describes as something in between friendly acquaintance and a close friend, in addition to the unfortunate target of their shared, scheming Dentist to the Stars, Evan Chandler (Jackson’s first molestation accuser). Here, Fisher is able to draw an even clearer picture of what privilege and apartness does to an individual who grows up struggling to fit a pre-selected identity instead of cultivating his own.


Fisher’s chapter on Michael Jackson is an unexpected and touching highlight that illustrates, among other things, how incredibly not okay Michael Jackson was with himself. As Fisher says, “he was able to look in the mirror and essentially say, ‘Yes. This is a face I’m more comfortable presenting to the world than the one I was born with.’” Although Fisher doesn’t make apologies for some of Jackson’s more notorious oddities that even she admits are inappropriate no matter how you look at them, she does a fine job examining how a little kid like Michael Jackson could become the man that he did.


Another delight is Fisher’s account of a deliriously uncomfortable blind date with former senator Chris Dodd, the outspoken SOPA supporter and current chairman of the MPAA who hates piracy more than Peter Pan. Most tantalizing is how this random chapter paints former United States Senator Ted Kennedy: as the misogynistic asshole everyone said he was. In a private corner of a fancy D.C. restaurant in the mid-‘80s, Kennedy started a little game of Get the Guest after a couple rounds of drinks and abruptly asked Fisher whether she would sleep with Dodd at the end of their date. The nervy chapter details how Kennedy interrogated Fisher with additional personal and often sexual questions in an attempt to embarrass her into submission, ostensibly just for the hell of it. In fact, additional dinner guests suggested to Fisher this was a regular pastime of Kennedy’s.


The Kennedy chapter works so well because it’s entirely that kind of story so surreal and larger than life that it’s hard to believe, but only because it’s so far outside the realm of the common civilian. It’s the kind of story you imagine Fisher told at dinner parties, and one her friends always begged her to repeat to new acquaintances. It’s also an edgy, one-of-a-kind “worlds colliding” story you wish Shockaholic had a lot more of.

Rating:

Michelle Welch is a pop culture obsessive with a BA in Cinema and Media Studies from the University of Chicago. She's a freelance entertainment writer, a former news blogger for The Onion's AV Club, has a soft spot for terrible movies, and dreams of one day seeing her name and picture among the film critics listed on Rotten Tomatoes. Follow her on Twitter @stayfrostymw


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