Long-winded memoir of an actress preoccupied with her own psychic structure and spiritual side.
Burstyn, best remembered for her roles in the films The Exorcist and Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, chronicles the successes of her career on stage and screen, her difficulties in relating to men, her failures in marriage and her never-ending search for self-understanding. First, though, there’s the unhappy childhood with a much-married mother. Desperate to get away, she left home on her 18th birthday, in 1950, working as a model in Texas and a chorus girl in Montreal before heading to New York, where, in 1957, she landed a lead in a Broadway play. Already, inner voices were guiding her acting, but her private life was a shambles, with her second marriage ending in divorce in 1962. Burstyn married again in 1964, and this toxic relationship and the effects on her of her husband’s mental breakdown are the subject of much of this work. A lapsed Catholic, she was attracted to Sufi mysticism and fell for a time under the sway of a guru with a compelling line of spiritual psychobabble that seems to have influenced her own writing. By the ’70s, she describes herself as being “in the embryonic stage of giving birth to my own self in life.” With her acting career at its peak in that decade, her inner life was focused on spiritual concerns, especially the nature of a feminine god. Ashrams, psychic nutritionists and healers, channeling, fasting, meditation—they all come into play in Burstyn’s continuing search for self-knowledge, which has involved not just domestic retreats but journeys to England, Switzerland, Turkey, Ireland, Bhutan and Cambodia. Among details she provides of her acting career, perhaps the most revealing concern her filming of The Exorcist. The actress proudly describes her refusal to say scripted lines because as an actress, she has created a living character and knows better than anyone what that character would and would not say.
Movie buffs, Burstyn fans, would-be actresses and perhaps fellow seekers of self-realization may relish this self-absorbed narrative.