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Review: In 'Wishful Drinking,' Carrie Fisher chronicles life, battle with bipolar disorder

And you thought being chained to Jabba the Hutt while wearing a metal bikini was tough.

She has weathered alcoholism, drug overdose, divorce and a friend's sudden death in her own bed, but Carrie Fisher dishes out the biggest shocker in the first chapter of her memoir Wishful Drinking. After struggling for much of her life with bipolar disorder, the celebrity kid-actor-novelist underwent electroconvulsive therapy to treat it. It worked, she says, except for one tiny side effect.

"My memory — especially my visual memory — has been wrenched from me," she writes. "All of a sudden, I find that I seem to have forgotten who I was before. So, I need to reacquaint myself with this sort of celebrity person I seem to be."

That paragraph is a fair sampling of the alternately arch and frank tone of Wishful Drinking (a nod to just one of Fisher's addictions). Based on a one-woman play that she performed for several years in Los Angeles and elsewhere, it's a circular, witty, sometimes revealing, sometimes not exercise in recovering herself — or selected portions thereof.

Fisher was born into show biz in 1956, the first child of perky blond screen star Debbie Reynolds and bedroom-eyed crooner Eddie Fisher. She grew up thinking everybody's parents were in the tabloids and the movies, dropping out of high school to be in the chorus line of her mother's Broadway show.

At 19, she was cast in the role that, she writes, inspired countless science fiction fans, stalkers and horny boys and will no doubt someday be the lead in her obituary: Princess Leia. Her feelings about Star Wars and its aftermath are, shall we say, ambiguous: "George Lucas ruined my life. And I mean that in the nicest possible way."

Some of Fisher's emotional baggage comes through loud and clear, like her lifelong contempt, only slightly mellowed, for her father. Her parents were "the Brad Pitt and Jennifer Anniston of the late '50s," with Elizabeth Taylor playing Angelina Jolie — Eddie dumped Debbie to marry Liz when Carrie was 2.

On the other hand, she can't say enough good things about her powerhouse mother (although the cord may not be entirely cut — Fisher is 52, and her mother lives next door).

Fisher still pines for her ex-husband, singer-songwriter Paul Simon, and is briskly brief about boyfriend Bryan Lourd, who fathered her adored teenage daughter, Billie, but then dumped Carrie for a guy. She's mostly reticent about her other celebrity romances, or maybe they just weren't memorable enough to bother recovering.

Wishful Drinking is looser in structure than Fisher's fine Hollywood novel Postcards From the Edge, but she's a born raconteur, so the stories roll along even when the time line gets loopy. She's cheerfully profane and occasionally sexually explicit; a few of her wisecracks probably play well in a stage show but don't do much on the page. But she winds it all up with a great punch line, the one thing that, despite all her "public forgetting," she just can't get out of her brain.

Colette Bancroft can be reached at cbancroft@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8435.

Wishful Drinking

By Carrie Fisher

Simon & Schuster, 163 pages, $21

Review: In 'Wishful Drinking,' Carrie Fisher chronicles life, battle with bipolar disorder 12/20/08 [Last modified: Saturday, December 20, 2008 3:30am]

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