Delusions of Grandma

(Literary Masterpieces, Critical Compilation)

Delusions of Grandma, the third of Carrie Fisher’s generally entertaining novels, examines life and love through a web of witty mega-metaphors and dramatizes the populist conviction that men and women have vastly different emotional needs and patterns of communication. In this case, the man and the woman are Cora Sharpe, witty and angst-ridden Hollywood “script doctor,” and Ray Beaudrilleaux, steadfast southern gentleman turned Hollywood attorney. Their relationship feels doomed from the start, as they indeed seem to be from different emotional planets. For Cora and Ray, love cannot conquer all.

Inexperienced in being romantically involved with “normal” men, Cora constantly doubts her true feelings for Ray, who is neither neurotic nor narcissistic like her former husband and former lovers. Oblivious to Cora’s insecurities, Ray’s quiet nature surrounds her elusive heart as his presence insinuates some stability into her chaotic life. In turn, Cora’s dazzling wit both fascinates Ray and keeps him at a distance, as she substitutes conversation for seduction. Yet physical contact—a first kiss in a parking lot leading eventually to sex on her sofa—silences her nagging mind at last, to Ray’s delight and Cora’s amazement.

After their first meeting at a friend’s party in Los Angeles and a subsequent dinner at a trendy restaurant, Ray and Cora’s unlikely pairing evolves through nightly transatlantic phone calls in which she does most of the talking and he does all the listening. In Paris to do a quick cable-film rewrite, Cora is surprised to discover how much she genuinely misses Ray. Absence making her heart grow fonder, she becomes aware of the inner depth lurking beneath Ray’s “qualities of a good Scout.” His reliability, earnestness, patience, and genuine interest in Cora prove unfamiliar to her, but her reluctance to let him love her begins to ebb nevertheless. Back in Los Angeles, Cora falls once again into the familiar verbal tap dance she choreographs to remain in control of her life—especially when love is at stake. Like water over stones, however, Ray continues to wear down her resistance to become involved. He does not take her reticence as seriously as she would like.

After Ray moves in with Cora, however, he discovers that their proximity does not entitle him to any more of her attention than he received when they were merely dating. He continues to ride in the backseat of Cora’s life, the window seats being permanently occupied by her work and friends. Her vast network of friends includes her “committee,” whose opinions and approvals Cora solicits whenever something threatens to undermine her control—such as falling in love with, God forbid, a lawyer.

As Ray’s innate patience with Cora begins to wear thin, their already tenuous relationship starts to erode. He refrains from expressing his discontent, though, until Cora pushes him to admit that he wants a commitment from her. She glibly replies that she’s a “weird enough girlfriend” but was a “disappointing wife” when she was married years before and has no desire to be one again. Ray valiantly argues in his own defense, battering down her emotional armor until he finally gets Cora to agree to an engagement “like in a Henry James novel” rather than an actual marriage. They’ll work up to that, she hopes. When he makes the mistake of giving Cora an engagement ring, however, Ray fails to notice that she wears it like a ball and chain rather than a constant—and expensive—reminder of his love.

As Cora grapples with the unfamiliarity of this “normal” romance, her friendship with cowriter Bud suffers. Bud has known Cora for years, calls her “Caesar,” and relies on her for advice and solace when his own doomed romances fail and he spirals into the pit of depression. Ray considers Bud a rival for Cora’s attention, if not her physical affection, and it is clear that they will never be friends. Ray also becomes increasingly annoyed at Cora’s inability to leave her friends’ lives alone; he cannot understand her need to “fix” their problems when she cannot fix her own.

As tensions surface between them, Cora decides that their engagement is a big mistake. Her declaration of this news sends Ray storming off, leaving Cora to muse about the ideal relationship: “If only we didn’t yearn for beginning things so damn close to the middle. Could be satisfied with a little more than a little. The warm toils in the hushed advancement of the clock. The mutual decisions. The carnival of compromise.”

The carnival of compromise invades Cora’s private space when William, her dearest friend who has only two T-cells left, comes to spend his last mortal days with her. Deeply affected by her decision to be William’s caretaker, she suddenly wonders who will take care of her. Ray is the obvious choice, so she...

(The entire section is 2010 words.)