The Best Awful

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

The Best Awful, Carrie Fisher’s fourth novel, is a thinly veiled autobiographical sequel to her first, Postcards from the Edge (1987). Her drug-addled, bipolar protagonist, Suzanne Vale, now a single mother, struggles wistfully with memories of her homosexual ex-husband. Adding to her vulnerability is her intense love for their young daughter, Honey. As she doggedly resists therapy, Suzanne decides to cut her hair and convert to Judaism—a spiritual cleansing she believes will permit her to stop taking prescription drugs. As her mania intensifies, she demolishes her tiled patio with a hammer.

Then Suzanne meets Tony, a tattoo artist and ex-convict, who lures her to Tijuana to purchase cheap narcotics. Terrified when he becomes violent, she must beg a good friend to rescue her. Eventually her manic behavior is replaced by depression. When her doctor gives her new pills (“a new sort of awful”), she stops breathing, is hospitalized and taken off all medication. Sleepless for six days and seriously frightened, she is finally admitted to a psychiatric hospital to begin her return to sanity. A new doctor informs her that she has been taking the wrong medicine all her life.

Fisher’s fragmentary style succeeded in Postcards from the Edge but is not so fortunate here. Suzanne’s crash and psychotic break with reality are vividly recreated, but Fisher’s glibness can be disturbing and sitcom-cute, and her flippant “tone” often jars with reality. Occasional sharp images (“lively eyes tenderized pink with vulnerability”) alternate with leaden dialogue. The novel is consistently uneven and its characters (except Honey) stubbornly one-dimensional. The question remains: if the author were anyone but Carrie Fisher, would this book have been published?