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‘Best Awful’ is just too familiar

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THE BEST AWFUL, by Carrie Fisher, Simon & Schuster, 270 pages, $24.

"The Best Awful," a sequel to "Postcards from the Edge," continues the story of Suzanne Vale, a Hollywood star who has seen better days, one who came to her celebrity life by virtue of genetics, and who seems similarly destined to cope with all the attendant ills of movie stars — drugs and alcohol dependency as well as mental and emotional instability.

As the daughter of a fabled film-celebrity couple of the 1950s, Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher, Carrie Fisher knows what she's talking about. And she expresses it here with panache, genuine wit and clever description.

The star of this novel has been diagnosed as bipolar, whose symptoms, says Fisher, "were spending sprees, substance abuse and sexual promiscuity. These didn't sound like symptoms at all — just a typical weekend in Vegas."

But Suzanne has other problems, stemming from her having had a child with Leland Franklin, "a handsome, caring and remarkably normal man . . . who forgot to tell (Suzanne) he was gay." Her only ray of hope becomes her daughter, Honey, a fair-haired, funny, smart, sweet daughter" who "loves playing tetherball with her crazy tap-dancing grandmother" (the unsinkable '50s movie star Doris Mann — who bears a remarkable resemblance to Debbie Reynolds.)

Suzanne's child allegedly wants to be either "a neurologist with a specialty in schizophrenia or a comic."

Once, while in Tijuana, Suzanne wandered past what seemed to be three types of shops — "your bars with their strippers and every sort of alcohol with the occasional offering of food; and then you'd come to the stores selling Day of the Dead statues, or maracas, embroidered blouses, colorful skirts, and Hello Kitty children's desks; and then came the pharmacies. The pharmacies were everywhere, selling every sort of antibiotic, Viagra, Rogaine, and most important, all manner of codeine-based painkillers, over-the-counter and in strengths ranging from mild to deadly."

The story gets a lot more depressing than this, especially when it comes to Suzanne's time in a mental hospital.

And so it goes, as Suzanne (or is it Carrie?) slips and slides through life's numerous land mines, going from one medication to another, having one unhappy sexual relationship after another, trying to keep enough balance in her life to give her daughter the motherly attention she deserves. Suzanne is pretty sure that Honey "deserves a reliable, responsible, boring mother" — but clearly that is not Suzanne.

This is a sad/funny, familiar novel about the way Hollywood ruins lives. You will likely experience deja vu. Haven't we heard and read all of this before? If not from Fisher, from too many other novelists and biographers who revel in telling the tragic stories that haunt Hollywood?

Of course. So the new question becomes "Why isn't Fisher, who is a gifted novelist, storyteller and film actor, writing a book that is worthy of her talents?"

I hope the next one qualifies.

E-MAIL: dennis@desnews.com