Postcards from the Ed

Postcards from the Edge

Postcards from the Edge is a semi-autobiographical novel written by Carrie Fisher, first published in 1987. It was later adapted, by Fisher herself, into a motion picture directed by Mike Nichols which was released by Columbia Pictures in 1990.

The film starred Meryl Streep and Shirley MacLaine, with Dennis Quaid, Gene Hackman, Richard Dreyfuss, Rob Reiner, Mary Wickes, Conrad Bain, Annette Bening, Simon Callow, Gary Morton, and CCH Pounder.

Postcards from the Edge received Academy Award nominations for Best Actress in a Leading Role (Meryl Streep) and Best Music, Original Song (Shel Silverstein for "I'm Checkin' Out").

On transforming the book into a movie script, director Mike Nichols explained, "For quite a long time we pushed pieces around, but then we went with the central story of a mother passing the baton to her daughter."



The novel revolves around movie actress Suzanne Vale as she tries to put her life together after a drug overdose. The book is divided into five main sections:

  • The prologue is in epistolary form, with postcards written by Suzanne to her brother, friend, and grandmother.
  • The novel continues the epistolary form, consisting of first-person narrative excerpts from a journal Suzanne kept while coming to terms with her drug addiction and rehab experiences. ("Maybe I shouldn't have given the guy who pumped my stomach my phone number, but who cares? My life is over anyway.") In time Suzanne's entries begin to alternate with the experiences of Alex, another addict in the same clinic. This section ends with Suzanne's successful graduation from treatment.
  • The second section opens with dialog between Suzanne and movie producer Jack Burroughs on their first date. It then changes to alternating monologues from Suzanne (addressed to her therapist) and Jack (addressed to his lawyer, who serves much the same purpose as Suzanne's therapist). Their relationship continues in this vein - all dialog/monologue. There is a lot of humor and satirical commentary in the dialog and how they each describe the relationship to outside parties.

The last three sections are traditional third-person narrative. As one reviewer notes, this progression from first to third-person narrative shows how disconnected Suzanne is from herself, now that she's not on drugs.

  • The third section describes the initial days of the first movie Suzanne made after her treatment. For convenience, Suzanne stays with her grandparents while the movie is made. She is chided for not relaxing herself on-screen, and notes that if she could relax she wouldn't be in therapy. This becomes a running gag among the actors and crew. The section ends with the crew mooning her on her birthday, and Suzanne asserts that "there isn't enough therapy" to help her with that experience.
  • The fourth section shows a week of Suzanne's "normal" life: working out, business meetings, an industry party, and going with a friend to a television studio for a talk show. She meets an author in the green room and gives him her phone number.
  • The fifth section encapsulates her relationship with the author, bringing the story to the anniversary of her overdose.
  • The epilogue consists of a letter from Suzanne to the doctor who pumped her stomach, who had recently contacted her. She notes that she is still off drugs and doing well. She is flattered that he inquires as to whether she is "available for dating", but she is seeing someone.

The book ends on a bittersweet note: she knows she has a good life, but doesn't trust it.

Unlike the movie, most of the conflict in the book is internal, as Suzanne is learning to handle her life without the prop of drugs. Suzanne's mother appears in very few scenes, while Suzanne is in rehab:

My mother is probably sort of disappointed at how I turned out, but she doesn't show it. She came by today and brought me a satin and velvet quilt. I'm surprised I was able to detox without it. I was nervous about seeing her, but it went okay. She thinks I blame her for my being here. I mainly blame my dealer, my doctor, and myself, and not necessarily in that order. [...] She washed my underwear and left.
Later Suzanne talks with her on the phone, but it is not stressful.


As in the book, Suzanne (played by Streep) is a recovering drug addict trying to pick up the pieces of her career and get on with her life. After completing a project with director Lowell Korshack (played by Hackman), she overdosed and was rushed to the hospital by Jack (played by Quaid), where her stomach was pumped by Dr. Frankenthal (played by Dreyfuss).

After being discharged from a rehab center, she returns to work. According to her agent, she can only be cleared by the insurance people if she lives with "a responsible party", such as her famous mother, Doris Mann (played by MacLaine), a bright star of the past whose wine consumption seems alcoholic to Vale. This is not easy for Vale, as she struggled for years to get away from her mother. Things are not made any better when Mann, a brassy, upstaging, competitive woman, who continuously changes the subject to herself, gives her daughter loaded advice and insinuating value judgments while treating her like a child.

Vale's maternal grandpa (played by Bain) is a quiet man, while her down-to-earth, plainspoken grandma (played by Wickes) is a wisecracking and crotchety old woman. It occurs to Vale that not only do daughters have mothers, mothers do too.

Vale also reenters the world of moviemaking, including visits from the head of the studio, Joe Pierce (played by Reiner) about drug testing. She also deals with comments on her imperfect body and her performance onscreen.

Eventually, Jack Faulkner (played by Dennis Quaid) re-enters Suzanne's life. At first she does not realize that Jack is the one who drove her to the hospital during her overdose. She reluctantly agrees to go out with Jack. When Jack arrives at Doris' home to pick Suzanne, Doris' flirtation almost goes a bit too far, which sets up the idea that Suzanne constantly feel as though she is in competition with her own mother.

Jack and Suzanne share a passionate first date where Jack professes eternal and intense love for her and Suzanne falls for it. After a very late evening out, Suzanne returns home to find Doris waiting up for her. "What if you had been doing drugs or something?," Doris asks. Suzanne actually questions Doris' own drinking. The two have a quiet, but pointed exchange.

"How would you like to have Lana Turner or Joan Crawford for a mother?" she asks.

Vale is amused. "Please. These are the options? You, or Lana, or Joan?"

Upon hearing an indiscreet comment about Jack's actions from her movie co-star, Suzanne catches up with bit-player Evelyn Ames (Annette Bening in one of her earliest breakout roles) and finds that Jack has been sleeping with Evelyn at the same time as Suzanne. She drives to Jack's place directly from the studio, all the while still in her police costume. After confronting him with the news she's learned from Evelyn, the two fight and Suzanne decides to storm out. As she gets into her car, Jack infers that she was much more interesting when she was loaded and insults a film he earlier told her was his favorite. She begins shooting at him with a gun....but it's merely a prop gun from the movie set. "Relax, they're blanks."

When she gets home from Jack's, Suzanne is informed by Doris that her business manager has run off with all her money. A bigger fight ensues between mother and daughter and Suzanne storms out. Doris misses that Suzanne merely said she was going to a looping session. The looping session proves fruitful for Suzanne, when her director (Gene Hackman) tells her that as soon as she gets clean, he has another job for her.

Suzanne arrives home to discover that Mann tore off looking for her and, due to too much alcohol, crashed her car into a tree. When Suzanne greets her mother at the hospital, Doris is not wearing her wig and practically bald. Suzanne's grandparents are in the room as well, and Grandma is being pretty bossy with daughter Doris. Suzanne pushes Grandma out of the room and mother and daughter have a calmer heart to heart while Suzanne does Doris' makeup and adds a scarf to her head.

Once properly made up ("We're designed more for public than for private," Suzanne quips), Doris musters her courage and faces the press over her accident. Vale then sees Dr. Frankenthal (Dreyfuss), who pumped her stomach. He asks if she will go out with him to a movie. Vale replies, "Sure, we could go see Valley of the Dolls." In seriousness, Vale tells the good doctor that she is not ready to date yet and needs more time for her recovery. The doc says he'll wait.

The film ends with Suzanne beginning a comeback with a music video, as her mother watches from above the set.

Postcards from the Edge gives a reasonable perspective of life behind the glamour, as the two powerful lead actresses explore their relationship as mother and daughter together. Vale admits to feeling inferior to her mother and explains how Mann's behavior affected her childhood, while Mann admits to feeling old and a bit jealous of her daughter's success.


In response to questions about how closely the movie's Vale/Mann relationship parallels Carrie Fisher's relationship with her mother Debbie Reynolds, Fisher stated in 1990 that, "I wrote about a mother actress and a daughter actress. I'm not shocked that people think it's about me and my mother. It's easier for them to think I have no imagination for language, just a tape recorder with endless batteries."

In Fisher's DVD commentary, she notes that Debbie Reynolds wanted to play the part of Doris Mann, but Nichols cast MacLaine instead.

Director Mike Nichols asserted, "Carrie doesn't draw on her life any more than Flaubert did. It's just that his life wasn't so well known."


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