SURRENDER THE PINK
By Carrie Fisher
Simon and Schuster. 286 pp. $18.95
CARRIE FISHER maps the female heart with high-spirited accuracy. She is very funny. Surrender the Pink has a wild energy reflecting the personality of the heroine, Dinah, a pretty screenwriter for soap operas whose problem is that she falls for men who are inaccessible, believing this to be because her father left her mother early in her life. Her other problem, which is unexplored, is that she believes this interest in inaccessible men is a problem peculiar to her and not part of the female condition.
The author is also an actress, having seduced Warren Beatty in "Shampoo" and played Princess Leia in "Star Wars." It is one of the tragedies of literature that those with eventful lives seldom have the time or inclination to write novels. Who would want to write a story about seducing Warren Beatty when you could actually be seducing him, albeit under cameras? But those who go in for the high life, for the high jumps and high drama, have plenty of good material if they can only use it, and Carrie Fisher certainly can.
The daughter of Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher, who decamped with Elizabeth Taylor, Carrie married another star, singer Paul Simon. The marriage, like the marriage upon which Surrender the Pink centers, lasted under a year. Carrie Fisher is quoted as saying that Paul Simon was afraid he was going to be in her first book. When he read it he said, "So I'll be in the second book." If she has used some of his lines, they're pretty good ones, and I bet he has used plenty of hers.
The heroine of this love story is a likeable 20-year-old with the quicksilver tongue of a disillusioned 50-year-old. Her love affairs have all ended badly because she only wants what she cannot get, and once she has what she wants she doesn't want it anymore -- "I guess I confuse love with absence." She meets the distinguished playwright Rudy Gendler at a party and they're soon into the acerbic, funny dialogue that characterizes this novel. Courtship follows; all is happiness.
"Dinah rolled away from him and teasingly sang: 'We have so much in common, it's a phenomenon.'
"Rudy joined in, pulling her back to him, pinning her under him. 'We should start raising horses, we're nuclear forces, coming on.'
" 'You're such an innovator,' she laughed. 'An innovator or an elevator; I can't remember which.' "
The next scene shows the wedding, but the characters are no longer Dinah and Rudy but "Blaine" and "Rose" from the soap opera, "Heart's Desire," which Dinah works on, and we realize that Dinah is writing about their relationship now that it is over. This is a good idea, but rather abruptly done. The marriage and its failure are portrayed through the scenes from the soap opera, to excellent and comic effect.
In one scene Blaine insists on seeing Rose, and as he comes nearer she backs away.
" 'I guess I'll always love you,' " she protests, " 'but my goal is to love you like people love their country . . . And I don't mean my own country. No, no. I mean like part of Scandinavia maybe . . .' The shot dissolves on a globe sitting on a piano."
Now that they have split up, Dinah is again interested in Rudy, and he tells her he has a new girlfriend, a nice, unambitious girl who wants to make him happy. "Well, that's very . . . touching. In an archaic sort of way," comments Dinah.
Rudy and his new old-fashioned love are summering in the Hamptons, and Dinah rents a house nearby and starts to haunt him. Dinah has slipped over the edge into seriously neurotic behavior. She is so funny in her craziness -- she enters Rudy's house and hides in his hall closet -- that we almost forgive her, but not quite.
The characters' endless self-analysis is at times a little boring, the references to the mating habits of animals which begin each chapter are a little pretentious and irrelevant, a few of the jokes are labored and some of the plot could have been handled more deftly. But Fisher makes up for these defects by extraordinarily delicate and clever dialogue, a convincing portrayal of character, in particular those of Rudy Gendler and Dinah Kaufman, and insights into the "gender package" -- what it is to be a male or female human -- that are quite unforgettable. Her prose is fresh and confident and on the whole she deals with complicated subjects in uncomplicated ways. Only towards the end is there that sense of darkness, of a writer in an attic trying to make sense of things and failing. It is that which is disappointing in the novel because we long for the charming, pretty heroine to be happy, but it is probably that very sense of desperation that will keep Fisher writing.
I liked the very end, which came as a surprise and yet was the only possible solution to the plot -- the definition of a good end.
Sally Emerson is a British writer living in Washington. Her most recent novel is "Fire Child."