What Janine is Reading and Listening to in Summer 2018
The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher, read by Carrie Fisher and Billie Lourd
What’s interesting about the audiobook version of Carrie Fisher’s memoir is that it’s read by Fisher herself, except for the journal entries from her time making the original Star Wars—those are read by her daughter, Billie Lourd.
One of the things that the memoir makes clear is just how young Fisher was then—only nineteen—and that she wanted to appear more sophisticated than she actually was.
She was also insecure and didn’t appreciate that she was attractive. Before the filming and after she was cast, she was sent to a fat farm to lose ten pounds but she didn’t lose them, and she spent her early days on the set of Star Wars hoping no one would find out and send her home.
Different hairstyles were tried on her and she didn’t think any of them looked good with her face. The famous Princess Leia buns were finally settled on because she was sick of trying hairstyles and pretended to like them. She spent a long time in the mornings getting her hair done and she remembers her hair stylist quite well.
Her affair with the married, 35-year-old Harrison Ford began after some crew members tried to get her drunk and he rescued her. She describes Ford as emotionally unavailable and says it would have been better to get involved with Mark Hamill, with whom she had a more familial relationship. She wanted Ford to leave his wife for her but of course, that didn’t happen. At one point, she admitted to him that she’d only been with one other guy before him, and he reacted badly—it was evident that he had assumed otherwise and was uneasy with her inexperience.
Fisher and Ford also get stoned a lot, and for the rest of her life, though she did use other drugs, she stayed away from pot because Ford’s brand of it had caused her memory blackouts.
Harrison Ford doesn’t come off well in this book—he was thirty-five and married and she was nineteen, what was he thinking? But Fisher is kind to him, ascribing his motives to loneliness at being far away from everyone he knew, and telling of how his eventual kind words to her as they flew home made her feel better about their relationship.
The journal that she kept during their brief relationship is read by Billie Lourd and is difficult to listen to, not because Lourd doesn’t read well (she does), but because Fisher’s realizations about herself and Ford are so painful, the entries so personal. It’s clear that they weren’t written to be published and at times, I felt that I was trespassing on the younger Fisher’s privacy. Though she is more perceptive and articulate than many teenagers would be, her experience could be any young person’s angst over her first bad breakup.
Much of the journal is written in doggerel so listening to these sections in audio format is a good choice. Billie Lourd’s narration is wonderful and captures the young Carrie’s emotions really well.
The final section is narrated by Fisher and describes how unprepared she was for the mega-fame she acquired from starring in Star Wars, or for the movie’s huge success. There’s a scene in which, as a passenger in her friend’s convertible, she drives past a line to see the movie that wraps around the block, and yells that it’s her in the film. Soon, though, she feels overexposed by the number of talk shows she, Ford and Hamill appear on, and struggles with being defined by this one role.
Fisher also discusses her experience signing autographs at conventions for money, something she dubs “the celebrity lap dance.” The fans feel a connection to her that she can’t feel back and are sometimes demanding, but she also touched by their enthusiasm for all things Star Wars and feels that they are sweet.
Fisher writes well and with humor, and her audio narration sounds very straightforward, much like the way she sounded in interviews. It is almost deadpan in its matter-of-factness, and this undercuts some of the jokes, though I did laugh in a few places. I am glad I got to listen to her tell her own story in her own words and voice, especially now that she is no longer with us.
Grade: B for both narration and content.
Happiness: A Memoir: The Crooked Little Road to Semi-Ever After by Heather Harpham
This is the story of the single mom of a very sick baby who reunites with the father of her child just as they face the possibility that their little girl will not survive.
I’m not sure what to say about this book—it’s a true story so therefore, though it has a child in jeopardy, it can’t really be called manipulative for that, especially since it’s written in a style that provides some distance from the subject matter. It’s a very literary style, with a lot of metaphors and analogies, some overt, some less so.
I found it exhausting to read, partly because it is emotionally exhausting to read about the struggles of parents of a very ill little girl who at first requires regular blood transfusions and is then is in danger from the iron in those, as well as about how the family must wrestle with the possibility of a bone marrow transplant which offers hope but is also dangerous.
But it was also exhausting because of the writing style. At times, it felt intellectual, which should have been restful given the emotional nature of the subject matter, but because the language was loaded with detail and imagery, it wasn’t.
I found that I wanted something more spare and plainspoken, although I usually love figurative language, because the sheer number of details and metaphors and the repetitiveness of certain patterns, like the insightful analogy at the end of the chapter, or the use of the same words in the last paragraph that appeared in the first paragraph of the next chapter, made the book seem almost cluttered.
The blurb made me think the book would be as much about the reconciliation of Heather with Brian, her daughter’s father, as about Gracie’s illness, but that may have been wishful thinking. Heather and Brian reconcile fairly early on and face most of their troubles together, though the strain resulting from Gracie’s illness certainly takes a toll on their relationship.
Despite his initial reluctance to step into the role of father, once he embraces it, Brian does a wonderful job. There were times when I wished that Heather could appreciate it more.
It was entirely understandable and relatable that, when consumed so much with little Gracie’s ill health and the monumental decisions that had to be made on her behalf, it would be difficult to have energy left to nurture and grow a romantic relationship. But I wished that Heather could take a few more moments to appreciate that Brian had to be suffering, too.
Maybe that ties back the issue I had with the literary language and style. The book felt like it was trying too hard to be artful, when a story like this one could have benefitted from being more direct and spare. C.
Florida by Lauren Groff
I started reading this literary short story collection in June and stopped due to illness. It went back to the library and I haven’t checked it out again, though it was very readable. Before it went back, I read the first four stories.
“Ghosts and Empties” was about a female jogger running through her neighborhood and meditating on, among things, its empty houses.
“At the Round Earth’s Imagined Corners” covered the childhood and then adult life of a man whose father had been abusive to his mother, and the main character’s resultant feelings of alienation.
“Dogs Go Wolf” was about two little girls stranded on an island, facing starvation and other dangers.
“The Midnight Zone” was about a mom who decides to stay in a cabin with her two boys even after her husband has to leave, in order to prove her self-sufficiency.
Florida is what ties the stories together.
Individually, the four stories I read were well-written, especially “At the Round Earth’s Imagined Corners.” They also evoked their setting extremely well.
Taken together, though, the stories were less satisfying, because their similarities were too great. Three of the four stories had vulnerable characters stranded in a dangerous situation and dependent on others to come rescue them. In two of these three stories some or all of the stranded characters were children, which of course added to the suspense. But I also felt manipulated by the use of the child-in-jeopardy trope. All four stories had a disquieting sense of menace and by the fourth story, this had begun to seem like part of the author’s schtick.
This part of the collection is an example of how the whole can be less than the sum of its parts. I would give “Ghosts and Empties” a B, “At the Round Earth’s Imagined Corners” an A-, “Dogs Go Wolf” a B+ and “The Midnight Zone” a C+. Yet to all four taken together I would only give a B-, and reading them back-to-back didn’t leave me with a hunger to read further. DNF, for now.