It’s difficult to come into Postcards from the Edge without a certain expectation. First of all, the movie adaptation is extremely well regarded and features sterling performances from Meryl Streep and Shirley MacLaine as a complicated mother and daughter in Hollywood. Author Carrie Fisher’s unexpected death (followed closely by her mother, Debbie Reynolds’ own passing) last December also gave the book a sort of notoriety. It’s her most famous work as an author and it just so happens to be a thinly fictionalized version of Fisher’s own relationship with her mother.
It’s a great shock, then, to read Postcards from the Edge in this modern context. The mother is barely in it at all. Instead, Postcards is more like a series of vignettes in the life of actress Susan Vale as she struggles toward sobriety. Her relationship with her mother is only passingly referred to, and it’s difficult to tell if the longing you feel for more time with the mother is genuinely derived from the pages or a result of wanting what you saw in the movie.
If you’ve ever seen Carrie Fisher on stage, or if you’ve read Wishful Drinking, her memoir, you know that she has a very stream-of conscious style. Postcards is not an exception to this. The narrative flows and meanders in the manner of someone telling a story. This style is fine but it too often feels as though the person telling the story isn’t sure of the point they want to make as they talk. Chapters shift away from Susan’s perspective, then those characters aren’t really revisited at all. There’s no plot per se, which is fine, except the snapshots don’t really cohere into anything significant.
I can’t help but compare to the movie, which Carrie Fisher herself adapted, and I can’t help but find the book lacking in comparison. The movie seems to show the promise of what Fisher could have accomplished had she stuck to a point and developed it into a coherent theme. The book on its own is fine, but just fine. It doesn’t come together.