The Best Awful by Carrie Fisher
Published by Simon & Schuster, 2004
My rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Though it can be read as a standalone, The Best Awful is a semi-sequel to Fisher’s debut novel, Postcards from the Edge, continuing to explore the trials and tribulations of Suzanne Vale, washed up actress and recovering addict. This time around, we find Suzanne heartbroken and humiliated, the father of her young daughter having left her for a man. Paranoid that she’s the ‘lesser’ parent, numbed by her bipolar medication, daunted by the prospect of modern dating, and horrified that her friends are starting to think her boring, Suzanne heads down a slippery slope that threatens to jolt her off the wagon, and land her in ‘the bin’.
This is possibly the most convincingly raw account of a mental breakdown I’ve ever read. It simmers with the kind of urgency and honesty that only someone with first-hand experience could have penned. The dizzying highs and the desolate lows of Suzanne’s bipolar ‘mood weather’ are captured with equal fervour; the disorientating claustrophobia of being inside her head as she loses her grip on reality like a drawn-out car crash – one you can’t tear your eyes from, no matter how brutal it gets. Indeed, the almost erratic feel of the narrative voice at times may alienate some, but it serves as a painfully realistic reflection of the heroine’s scattered perspective; her million-miles-an-hour mindset that offers no respite.
When Fisher really delves into the mental health struggles of her characters, there’s an added level of poignancy, with most readers aware of how autobiographical many of the events explored are. But she never loses her ability to infuse the darkness with some much-needed light. Zingy one-liners and clever word play bring a darkly comic edge of self-deprecation to the story that makes Suzanne very endearing, no matter how flawed she is. For she is, indeed, a very complex character. For all the terrible decisions she makes, the cutting sarcasm, and the dips into vanity, it becomes clear that much of this is the product of a woman full of guilt and self-loathing; the victim of a vapid culture that has left her unsure how to properly function in or out of the spotlight.
It’s a story of rock-bottom and recovery; the pitfalls of a life lived under the pressure of Hollywood; unconventional family; and one woman’s quest to make peace with herself – a backwards coming of age story delayed by a few decades.
The end in particular becomes playfully meta, when a character writes the following to Suzanne:
‘When we have experience and strength to share with someone who’s gone through a similar difficulty, then the right thing to do is share that experience, and give comfort and hope when we can. I know you’ll do the right thing.’
The obvious implication is that these are the very words Fisher herself tried to live her latter years by. Suffice to say, she did the right thing.
You can pick up a copy of The Best Awful from Book Depository by clicking here. If you’ve already read it, I’d love to hear your thoughts!