Carrie Fisher's postcards have an edge that each book hones more sharply

April 27, 1994|By Chris Kridler | Chris Kridler,Sun Staff Writer

Carrie Fisher's winning wit has been tempered with depth of feeling.

Her third novel, "Delusions of Grandma," manages to bring together the best elements of her first two books without succumbing to their flaws -- a lack of cohesion in "Postcards from the Edge" and the false notes of "Surrender the Pink."

Her writing is as likable as ever -- flip, punny, poignant, stuffed with references to pop culture in general and Hollywood in particular. As an actress, Ms. Fisher has an insider's eye, and she uses her setting well -- as a colorful backdrop to the more important story: her characters' feelings and flaws as they fumble to do the right thing.

Cora is her narrator, a screenwriter with a "committee" of dear friends and a surprising intrusion in her life -- a real relationship with a man.

Ray is a lawyer (she keeps trying to forgive him for it), and as we find out from the letters Cora is writing to her child-to-be, he's also going to be a father.

Of course, at the beginning, what they chiefly share is conversation. They meet for lunch, and their talk turns to death. " 'Do you remember finding out about that?' he asked earnestly. 'That you were going to die? Not you, particularly -- everyone.'

"Cora raised her eyebrows in mock astonishment. 'Am I? God, if I'd known that, I would've worn something completely different.' "

The sweetness of their early relationship is strained as she hesitates to commit herself and he chafes at the constant presence of her myriad friends. But when one of those friends, William, moves in for an extended visit, the couple see themselves in a new light. William is dying of AIDS, and the breath of death inflames the lovers' bond with a wind of life-loving passion.

The problem is that fire has a tendency to burn itself out, and Cora "basically didn't believe in her ability to have a relationship. . . . For Cora to rely largely on one other person for, well, just about everything seemed like a bet she could never really win." She has a lot to work out for herself, and for everyone else -- William, and Ray, not to mention her writing partner, Bud; her grandfather, who has Alzheimer's disease; and her mother, whose fanciful dreams and dire predictions of death in childbirth Bud calls "delusions of grandma."

In spite of the fragmentary life Cora leads, her story is really about connecting. Her baby connects her with her mother; death connects her with life; and her friends connect with her in a way a conventional family cannot:

"I once looked up family in the Oxford English Dictionary . . . the real deal seemed to be a group of persons connected by affinity, as in by blood, inclination, or attraction. So what I figured is that I am a servant of my family of inclination and attraction, and my job is to serve them in whatever way they want to be served."

This is smart, funny stuff, rich in the sometimes sad way life is rich, an embossed invitation to hope that is edged in black.

All in all, Carrie Fisher has delivered a bouncing baby of a book, laughing and crying and spitting up with equal energy, and always with charm.

BOOK REVIEW

Title: "Delusions of Grandma"

Author: Carrie Fisher

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Length, price: 260 pages, $22

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