Breakthrough: Carrie Fisher

Breakthrough: Carrie Fisher

January 17, 2020
Carrie Fisher was born to famous parents, grew up in the wake of an infamous Hollywood scandal, and starred in what would become the most famous movie franchise in the world when she was 19 years old. But by her death in 2016, she was just as renowned for her candor in speaking about her struggles with drug addiction, depression, and other mental illnesses in her various celebrity memoirs, all with her trademark sense of humor.

In Wishful Drinking, her first memoir based on her one-woman show, Fisher recalls being 10 years old and thinking if she wasn’t going to be beautiful like her mother, she needed to be funny. It was this realization that would shape how she approached life and the stories she would tell. “If my life wasn’t funny, it would just be true, and that is unacceptable,” she writes. Fisher’s ability to make stories about herself and her bipolar diagnosis funny, inviting listeners to laugh along with her, is a unique approach when it comes to celebrity memoirs about mental illness. It’s a style that, frankly, only Carrie Fisher could pull off.

Fisher doesn’t want you to feel sorry for her. She doesn’t care about being an inspiration. She just wants to make sure we are all having a good time! And for her, that means being forthright about her bad memory due to electroconvulsive therapy, while joking about getting unnecessary dental work done just for the drugs, as she admits in Shockaholic. She may go off on tangents that leave you wondering, “What on earth does this have to do with the original story?” But with Fisher as the narrator, it feels like you're sitting across from an old friend, so you don’t mind her rambling. If anything, the rabbit holes she goes down feels like a peek into how her brain functioned. It’s not dissimilar to Terri Cheney’s Manic, a memoir about bipolar disorder. In writing her story mood by mood, Cheney tries to convey what it is like to live with that particular mental illness, although her storytelling method is more deliberate than Fisher’s.

Before publishing her memoirs, Fisher wrote four novels loosely based on her own life, beginning with Postcards from the Edge. If you listen to her fiction before her memoirs, certain stories will start to ring a bell in the back of your head until you realize you’ve heard this one before, just with different names. To be clear, I don’t think this is a bad thing; I find it fascinating. It seems to me that Fisher was telling the same stories over and over again, crafting and molding them for different audiences, trying to maximize the humor she found in them.

This is one of the reasons why I find the last of her celebrity memoirs, The Princess Diarist, the most revelatory of all her writing. Not for the many stories she recounts about the casting and filming of Star Wars (which we had heard before in interviews throughout the years). Nor for the admission of the affair she had with Harrison Ford (which we definitely had not heard about before). Rather, it’s the unfiltered, earnest diaries she kept during the filming of Star Wars, which she decided to share with the world. Here was a completely different side of Carrie, one she hadn't shown us before. Billie Lourd’s quiet, intense reading of her mother’s diary entries are a perfect match for the sincere, vulnerable, introspective time capsules. It’s in complete contrast to Fisher’s present-day narration, which is full of sarcasm, self-deprecation, and the hilarious one-liners we’ve come to expect from her. I can’t help but wonder if, had she lived longer, we would have seen more of that young, heartfelt openness in future books.

Some may look at her life and feel sad there wasn’t a moment, a diagnosis, or turning point where suddenly everything clicked into place and she was forever better. She was sick and she got help, over and over again, and she cracked jokes in between. If she could inspire us in any way, it’s in how to face our own struggles, day after day. I find comfort in returning to these memoirs since her death. Not only am I reminded that we all struggle, but she also helps me believe that one day I’ll be able to look back on my dark times and tell the story in such a way to make myself, and maybe even others, laugh.

Christine Hoxmeier is a Book Riot contributor from Austin, Texas, who spends her free time
reading, sewing, and thinking about her latest pop-culture obsessions.

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