A review of Send Yourself Roses by Kathleen Turner

Reviewed by Liz Hall-Downs

Send Yourself Roses: Thoughts on My Life, Love and Leading Roles
by Kathleen Turner in collaboration with Gloria Feldt
Springboard Press
ISBN: 978-0446581127, Hardcover: 272 pages, February 14, 2008

It’s fair enough to expect that someone known for their acting ability may not be as equally talented when called upon to write an account of their life. But can Kathleen Turner make this excuse? Given that this book was written in collaboration with a writer, one would expect more attention would have been paid to producing a text that contained competent writing as well as Hollywood gossip. Unfortunately, this memoir reads exactly as it was produced – with Turner verbally holding forth on various subjects and the coauthor simply editing the transcribed conversation, complete with the usual colloqualisms that may well be effective in speech but caused this reader to cringe in my chair. (I’m afraid I don’t warm to being addressed as ‘Baby’ and the liberal sprinkling of the ‘f-word’ throughout the text simply convinced me that Turner lacks an effective vocabulary to draw upon.)

It’s important to remember that in the case of celebrity memoirs the bar has been significantly lifted since the release of Bob Dylan’s Chronicles and the recent Eric Clapton memoir, both of which were highly literate, thoughtful and well-written. Send Yourself Roses is not at all like these recent memoirs, but more like the kind of celebrity hagiography produced as a movie tie-in or short-term career booster. This represents a lost opportunity for Turner, one of whose purposes in releasing this memoir seems to be to garner more of the respect she has worked so hard for. (Remember her groundbreaking work on the sexually explicit and, for its time, radical, Body Heat, the swashbuckling fun of Romancing the Stone, and her unforgettable depiction of the manic divorcing wife in The War of the Roses?)

The most powerful part of the memoir is Turner’s description of her rapid deterioration into invalidism as a result of the severe rheumatoid arthritis, and her struggles to maintain her career, relationships and physical function in the face of a rampaging inflammatory disease. Telling the world about her illness would have been career suicide, and this, along with endless media speculation on her medication-induced weight gain, served to exacerbate her distress. Her account of the physical and emotional toll of this experience is extremely moving and, as a fellow RA sufferer, I can say it’s one of the most honest accounts I’ve read about the impact of RA on an individual.

Turner has some interesting insights to share on acting, and the Hollywood system, and some quite colourful accounts of what it was like to work with iconic figures such as Jack Nicholson, Steve Martin, Francis Ford Coppola, Michael Douglas, William Hurt, John Waters, John Huston and Edward Albee. However, her stated desire to avoid writing a ‘gossip memoir’ leaves the reader with more questions than answers about the various directors, authors and leading men she’s worked with, and few new insights, so that the text reads like a simple ‘Guess how many important people I’ve known and worked with’ kind of narrative. This kind of thing may have sold well in the past and, given Turner’s status and recognisability, probably will in this case. But it seems to me that someone as insightful and witty as Turner has lost an opportunity here by not writing her memoir herself, in actual words on a page, and over a period of time that allows for rereading and reflection before allowing her story to be released in book form. Putting her name to this conversation posing as memoir has done both Turner and her talent a disservice . One strictly for the fans.

About the reviewer: Liz Hall-Downs has been reading and performing poetry in public, on TV and radio in Australia and the USA, and publishing in journals, since 1983. She holds a BA from Deakin University (Victoria) with major studies in Professional Writing & Literature and an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Queensland. Some of Liz Hall Down’s publications include: Fit of Passion, (with Kim Downs), (Fit of Passion Collective, 1997), Girl With Green Hair, (Papyrus Publishing, 2000), People of the Wetlands, (Brisbane City Council, 1996), Mountains to Mangroves, and Mountains to Mangroves Haiku Cycle, (Brisbane City Council and Queensland Wildlife Preservation Society, 1999), Blackfellas Whitefellas Wetlands, (with B.R. Dionysius and Samuel Wagan Watson), (Brisbane City Council & Boondall Wetlands Management Committee, 2000).