Delusions of Grandma
by Carrie Fisher
Simon & Schuster
Princess Leia has had a baby and fictionalized it. Carrie Fisher, author and screenwriter of Postcards From the Edge and Surrender the Pink has again made art imitate life by using her own life as the source for her latest novel, Delusions of Grandma. The absolute Hollywood insider, Fisher had a baby, so her novel is having one too.
Fisher's alter ego is the screenwriter Cora. In letters to her unborn baby scattered throughout the story, we find out she's naming the baby Esme, even though it sounds like a noise her nose makes, and we learn that the she can't resist cracking a joke about serious things. Cora also leads what she calls a "noisy life" full of parties and problems and oodles of self-absorption. This cycle dominates, except of course, when she is forced to make room for the plot.
Held loosely together by the letters to Esme, the story unfolds clumsily in the three disparate parts. First, Cora falls in love with the attentive Southerner Ray but is just too darn neurotic to make it work. They try to save their relationship by nursing her dying friend William through the last stages of AIDS. When William dies, the relationship falls apart, but it's OK because Cora doesn't miss Ray much; she has rationalized it all away.
Delusions is most intriguing when Fisher delights you with a good line. In the beginning, Delusions feels chock full of them:
"Someone summered in my stomach,
Someone's fallen through my legs.
To make an infant omelet
Simply scramble sperm and eggs."
At times Cora's cracks painfully reflect her tension. She writes to Esme, "I am resigned to the fact that you will like your father better than you like me. Hell, for a long time I liked him better than me and that was after living with him better part of a year, which doesn't exactly endear people to you as a rule (ask around)." Poor Cora, she alienates Ray with her cynical humor and is left to the less interesting two-thirds of Delusions.
As readers, however, we aren't all that upset to see Ray go. Fisher gets too gooey with her language when she's in love and treads dangerously close to being laughable. "The idea of him did not loom larger, but the reality, the quiet force of him, stole into her sideways one night when she lay next to him and made its hungry home there."
Cora is funnier when she is keeping her distance from Ray. It is really too bad though, that she never works things out, because we feel always as if resolution is possible and that Ray could be good from her (in spite of the goo) if only she would grow up.
The slow death of William from AIDS is supposed to be transformative for Ray and Cora. William shows up as the relationship disintegrates and both relationship and William proceed to die. Rather than stirring immediate sympathy, the introduction of William is awkward because he has hardly been mentioned before and is promptly given center stage. Fisher can't really handle such a big topic, and William serves mainly to delay the finality of Ray and Cora's split.
In the third storyline in the novel, Fisher detours to another setting by giving focus to her mother and grandfather. They abduct Grandpa from the nursing home where he was so rudely placed by his second wife, and take him "home" to Texas.
On a train, with Cora searching for meaning, things start to fall apart. We know, because we're at the end of the book, that the feeling of incompleteness about Ray is all we're going to get. We are still confused by the whole episode with William--surely his death was more than just a stall tactic? Even her jokes are starting to falter ("Berth and birth--she attempted to wrangle the words into a suitable pun, but nothing come.") And now Fisher has given us another invalid to contend with, the unsympathetic, addled Grandpa.
Grandpa's plight, however, is secondary to the fact that Cora is on this journey for herself. With the aid of her eccentric, truth-dispensing mother ("A clean colon does wonders for the will to live"), Cora come to the conclusion that "things did not always go as you planned, much less make a handy brand of the right kind of sense." We can only hope that this tidbit of knowledge will make her a better mother than she was grown-up.
There is an awkward tension in Delusions which stems from the fact that we are readers can probably see more about Cora than Fisher can because she wrote herself into the book. We watch Cora make her mistakes, be confronted by them, and make a winning remark, but she never really takes action with her new knowledge.
If Carrie Fisher hasn't grown up herself, she doesn't have the freedom to write about it in Cora, so there is always the feeling of elements at work that neither the author nor the character are aware of. We end up wishing for a very good shrink for the both them. This is the trouble with Fisher's brand of fictionalized truth.
For readers who are delighted when Cora signs her letters to Em "Mom Sequitur" or who laugh at the joke "What are the saddest two words in the English language? What party?", Delusions of Grandma is an entertaining read. But at $22.00 and a two-hour reading time, even the staunchest Fisher fan would be wise to wait for the paperback.