Read Harder #12: Wishful Drinking

Cover of Carrie Fisher's Wishful Drinking

#12: A celebrity memoir – Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher

Carrie Fisher gives readers a glimpse at the woman behind the famous Princess Leia. She mentions several times that the book takes, in part, from her show of the same name, and the writing proves it: Fisher takes a conversational — sometimes bordering on sloppy, but always clever — tone as she charts her colorful life, from her unusual (and occasionally tumultuous) childhood to her struggles with bipolar disorder and substance addiction.

The book is a breezy, scattershot read. Fisher jumps from vignette to vignette, sometimes with only the barest of narrative themes to facilitate the transition. There are lots of asides, too, but they don’t weigh down the writing; in fact, they buoy it, injecting sharp humor into a collection of otherwise bizarre and/or grotesque anecdotes. (I love the absurdity of her stories about Cary Grant as earnest LSD interventionist.)

If Wishful Drinking has an overarching theme, it’s Fisher’s fierce and gamely self-deprecating sense of humor in the face of difficulty; if there’s an emotional throughline that pulls it all together, it’s the deep love and rich relationships binding Fisher and her loved ones, especially her mother Debbie and her daughter Billie. The memoirs of people who grow up privileged often run the risk of descending into the entitled, affected whining that gets hashtagged #firstworldproblems. On the other hand, the outsized, alienating, and often-grotesque nature of a life lived under perpetual spotlights resists any approach that isn’t soaked in angst and anger. Fisher sketches out a life that is ostensibly both, but she manages to avoid the expected pitfalls with warmth and a winning aplomb.

Unfortunately, part of that’s due to the breathless way Fisher chews through her stories. Each gets mashed with rapid-fire quips and washed down with a wry, sometimes-too-pat summation, and whatever emotional weight the story has barely gets time to sit before the next round comes. This is not to say that Fisher is insincere: she acknowledges the surreality of her life while nevertheless surfacing the humanity in it. But for all her candor, she doesn’t give readers much time to dig into the travails she so airily mentions or the people who serve as constants in her whirlwind of a life.

I’m inclined to view this gloss as deliberate. Wishful Drinking carries the voice of a woman who’s gone through too much shit to let herself — and her readers — harbor any more illusions about who she is. But maybe that’s an illusion in itself: Fisher lays out her life behind a glass pane, though she pounds on that glass with a forcefulness that almost makes you forget it’s there. Considering how much detail she does give about the weird shapes that fame has given her life, that’s understandable and not at all surprising.

The portrait Fisher paints of herself here, in her supposed attempt to rebuild following ECT-induced memory loss, likely hews closer to reality than the likeness that pop culture will remember. What’s funny is that the further Fisher seems to get from the Princess Leia image, the more the similarities stand out: the strength, the resilience, the refusal to be ground down. But as Fisher points out, Princess Leia (and all the glitz of that role and Fisher’s own pedigree) is hardly hers — in fact, is pretty much public property. Wishful Drinking reads like Fisher letting us know what is hers and refusing, with signature sass, to hand that over to us, too.

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