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Book Review: Babylon Confidential
I will start out this review by saying that Iím a fan of Claudia Christian. I was that person, back in the mid-Ď90s, who kept trying to get my friends into "Babylon 5" and failing, because no one had the patience to sit with me and untangle a plot that had been going on since the beginning of the series - back in the day when story arcs were not the norm. I admired the strength of Christianís character, Susan Ivanova, and liked watching her relationship with Psy Corps telepath Talia Winter develop. I was not happy when Christian did not return to the show for its fifth and final season. And, although by then Iíd been interviewing actors and creative folks for years, I was actually starstruck when I interviewed her at a convention in the late 1990s.
Iím also not one of those people who cares about celebritiesí personal lives. Of course, itís always enlightening and instructive to hear about and understand what other people have experienced, if their worlds are different from our own and if they have something to say about it. But gossip has never worn an amiable form to me. Even as a teenager I never sought out such information on even my favorite stars, outside of their performances and body of work. So a lot of what Christian exposes in Babylon Confidential: A Memoir of Love, Sex & Addiction, her titillating and deeply personal memoir written with Morgan Grant Buchanan, is a revelation to me. I had no idea. The book details her rather turbulent personal life and her struggles with alcoholism, and features a good old-fashioned Hollywood ending. Sort of.
Christian is more of a cult figure than a major celebrity, so I was surprised at how dishy this book is. Sheís worked and had relationships with a lot of famous folks, including the late Dodi Fayed (Princess Diís ill-fated lover). Many of her anecdotes relate to Hollywood Peeps Behaving Badly. However, her main focus is on her addiction Ė how it dragged her down, how she fought it, the toll it took on her, and how she found a solution that worked for her. This part of Christianís tale is the most powerful. She discusses her struggles, her losses, her despair with candor and depth, and she makes it seem real.
I do have a couple of minor issues with the book. Christian should have given "Love" a lesser placement in her book title, since she mostly expounds about sex and relationships rather than love. Despite the confiding nature of her story, and the courageous honesty she shows in detailing her downward spiral as an alcoholic, she rarely outlines her actual feelings for the men in her life Ė and, in fact, she seems to create an emotional distance there. I never understood the motivations behind her relationships, or what made her stay with certain guys despite the abuse she clearly took from them.†In a way it seemed like she was more bent on relating what happened in those relationships than exploring them. In many areas Christian comes off as intelligent and occasionally profound - but not as much about the guys she...dates? Loves? Enjoys? I'm not saying she should reveal every inner emotion felt with everyone in her life, but if the book is meant to be partly about love I think the topic got short shrift.
And, as a "B5" fan, I wish sheíd offered a more structured narrative on her experience with the show. I understand why she didnít; the book isnít really about her acting work. This is me nitpicking, because I just wanted more about Ivanova and how she and her alter ego influenced each other in terms of the "Love, Sex & Addiction" subtitle.
The end of Christianís autobiography reads a bit like an endorsement for The Sinclair Method, which she used to overcome her destructive behavior Ė not unnatural at all, given her desperate struggles and the relief and gratitude she must have felt when she realized she was making headway against ďthe beast,Ē as she calls her disease. I am not the one who will disparage her choice of cure, or criticize her desire to play spokesperson for a product that truly helped her. I will say that I remain skeptical about its effectiveness over the long term, and about its suitability for everyone. I will also say, unfairly, that I find it a touch unsatisfying to have a pill be the light at the end of the tunnel Ė the denouement at the end of the book. †Then again, this is Christianís life, not a fairy tale.
After doing a little bit of research on The Sinclair Method, I also found its critics to be wanting. They mainly argue that a person canít be expected to take a pill every single time they drink, that this is trading one addiction for another, and that alcoholism isnít purely a physical disease. The first I think is a dumb argument, because if the person acknowledges that they have a problem then they are motivated to do it, and itís not like taking a pill is so difficult. The second criticism I donít have enough information to refute or approve. The third objection is the one I think is probably true, but even so, a 12-step program isnít the answer for everyone.
Ultimately, Babylon Confidential isnít perfect, but itís a colorful and fascinating read. Its strength is Christianís unapologetic demeanor, her no-holds-barred tell-all attitude, and her clear desire to help others who have gone through hell and back. She does a good job of mixing her story with insight and humor, and she makes her world seem both intensely intimate and larger than life. I wouldnít recommend it to someone just looking for behind-the-scenes dirt on "B5" or trying to learn about the acting business, but I would recommend it to fans and non-fans alike who might be interested in her personal journey. I finished it in a day.
"Babylon Confidential: A Memoir of Love, Sex & Addiction" is available through BenBella Books for $16.95. Visit the site at www.babylonconfidential.com.
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