Archive | May, 2012

Review of Carrie Fisher’s ‘Wishful Drinking’

16 May



As most of the civilized (meaning tabloid-reading) world knows by now, Carrie Fisher is a mess. The daughter of “Hollywood sweethearts” Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher, Fisher emblazoned her image onto pop culture as Princess Leia in the original Star Wars trilogy and then largely disappeared into a maelstrom of drink, drugs and manic-depression. Now she’s back, at our own Hobby Center, telling us all about it. And we laugh. 

Having performed the one-woman show called Wishful Drinking for several years now, Fisher is utterly at home in front of us and, seemingly, at home within her own life story. While smooth enough, and definitely scripted, the show takes time for audience questions and even calls somebody onstage for a funny bit, as a comedian might do at some down-on-its-heels mid-America resort. All the same, when she isn’t shaking her head and asking “Now where was I?”, Fisher is clearly in control of her material – whether it’s her childhood against the backdrop of her father’s leaving her mother to marry Elizabeth Taylor or her own on-again-off-again dating-marriage-dating with songwriter Paul Simon. (“If you ever get a chance to have Paul Simon write a song about you,” she deadpans, “I hope you’ll please say Yes.” 

Despite being funny for nearly all of its two acts, the show does touch on serious issues. After all, being an alcoholic and a drug addict is serious, as is being a manic-depressive, as is being in rehab or being “invited” (as she puts it) to a mental hospital. Fisher has some intelligent and hard-won truths to share about these experiences, their causes and effects, demonstrating the investment of effort that comes via solitude and no small amount of therapy. The 50-something woman with a daughter and two ex-husbands who emerges here is not specifically religious but seems spiritual enough, seeing herself not only as part of an ongoing family saga but, in some way, part of the universe. And she offers us her thoughts in small enough doses that they never grate. At one point, Fisher refers to her show as “pandering” and “people-pleasing,” but Wishful Drinking is that only as a finished product, not as an ongoing process. And, as they say, only in a good way. 

Wishful Drinking, naturally, includes dozens of smart, sarcastic bits about her turn as Princess Leia, including director George Lucas’ extravagant merchandising thereof. “George owns my image,” Fisher offers at one point, with the perfect timing of a Catskills comic. “Every time I look at myself in the mirror, I have to send him a few bucks.” And there is something of “name it and claim it” here as well, all delivered on a simple living room set with a large backdrop for projections of stills and videos from her life. 

In the end, we see a lot of ourselves in Carrie Fisher, despite her upbringing among what she jokingly refers to as “simple people of the land” and her own quasi-ridiculous life writing us Postcards from the Edge (the title of her book that became a movie) ever since. Wishful Drinking is fun and funny, sad and a little bit wise. It makes the essential crossover for any work of popular art, from “talking about me” to “talking about us.”

New/Old Spenser from a True Ace

4 May


ROBERT B. PARKER’S LULLABY. A Spenser Novel by Ace Atkins. Putnam, $26.95.

When crime writer Robert B. Parker died at his desk in January 2010, many observers noted that America had lost two treasures: the writer himself and his best known creation, the smartassed, quick-fisted and profoundly moral Boston PI with only one name, Spenser. “Like the English poet,” Spenser would always explain, as the generations of villains and victims turned and nobody knew who he even meant.

Now, thanks to good old American capitalism, it seems America has lost only one treasure after all.

In the way these things work more and more, a younger crime writer named Ace Atkins (who appropriately now cites Parker as his foundational inspiration) has been hired to keep the Spenser series alive – just as Michael Brandman has been hired to push ahead with Parker’s other biggest success, starring troubled small town police chief Jesse Stone. With the publication May 1 of the new Spenser novel, I tucked into and enjoyed the new Jesse as well, Robert B. Parker’s Killing the Blues. And yes, it absolutely is amazing what they can do these days!

If at times Atkins (a successful author in his own right, based on a farm outside Oxford, Miss., a long way from Spenser’s gritty, snow-and-ice Boston) seems to be parodying the great man, it’s a loving parody. And really, in his later years, like most writing institutions from Twain to Hemingway to Updike, Parker was accused of parodying himself. There is, in fact, so much homage in all hardboiled fiction – Atkins who’s channeling Parker who was always channeling Raymond Chandler – it’s hard to say where one set of hard fists ends and the other begins. What’s important, it seems to me after reading past midnight to finish Robert B. Parker’s Lullaby in one sitting – what’s important is that The Work goes on.

And for this, Atkins’ first outing in Spenser’s shoes, everybody shows up to help us feel at home: good guys Benson and Quirk (who sometimes help the bad guys), bad guys Vinnie Morris and Tony Marcus (who sometimes help the good guys), Spenser’s analytical Jewish shrink girlfriend Susan – and yes, even Hawk, the super-sized black man who speaks hilarious black dialect till even a gumshoe named after a dead-white-guy English poet can’t help joining in. In the universe Spenser and Parker made their own – a familiar one for American noir, but simply done lots better – there are indeed absolute right and absolute wrong, there are guys who choose to devote their lives to either, and amidst chaos, corruption, confusion and sudden violence, there’s really only one man who can set things straight.

In Lullaby, the issues could not be clearer: a now-14-year-old girl who first watched her mother fade into men and drugs and finally watched her carried off to be murdered hires our hero (for a dozen doughnuts, in the city of Dunkin’, no less) to prove the guy who went to prison didn’t do it. There you have it – the failings of a system that doesn’t care, the loss of innocence of a child, a mystery in need of solving, a wrong in need of righting. As Susan is ever-quick to point out, there are layers within layers to all this, with even the happy endings having plenty of sad. Just as the Sox get rained out at Fenway in Lullaby when they’re actually about the win one, the world of Spenser is filled with dead bodies and some very wistful truths.

Whatever I think of all the “dead white guys” still writing new versions of their original bestsellers, we are lucky that Spenser – increasingly like Boston’s own Dark Knight – still drinks excellent Scotch, whips up some very quirky meals, and awaits our troubled call.

Photo: Ace Atkins. Not Robert B. Parker.