Cannonball Read / Mike R.
Book Reviews | December 22, 2008 | Comments ()
Ask anyone what they thought of the infamous voicemail between Alec Baldwin and his daughter, Ireland; they’d probably tell you that he’s an asshole. Make no mistake, our modern media can be quite quick to judge celebrities and their divorces, leading to snap judgements from the rest of the world. (One woman actually yelled at him, “Why don’t you call your daughter, you asshole?!” as he walked by a sidewalk café in New York.) I’ll admit, when I first heard the call I thought it was a sign of deficient character myself. It sounded like Alec Baldwin playing a good prick again, only this time it was for real. However, if the world knew what anyone who’s read A Promise to Ourselves knows, they’d be a little more forgiving. After all, if you were getting a divorce and the only contact you had with your kid was a phone call, you’d be pissed too if the system kept trying to screw you out of it.
Right from the start of A Promise to Ourselves, Alec Baldwin makes his intentions clear. The first line says it all, “I never wanted to write this book. Although my experiences with judges, lawyers, and court-ordered therapists during my own high-conflict proceedings left me outraged over the injustices I believe are endemic to the family law system in our society, I had no desire to revisit them.” Indeed, it reads like a book he never wanted to write, and that is meant as a good thing. He doesn’t seem to take any particular pleasure in writing about how he came to fall in love with, and then become engaged in a nasty divorce with, Kim Bassinger. (He simply refers to her as “Kim” or “my ex wife” in the book.) He knows that the world has filled in on the back story; he knows that everyone who’s anyone knows what happened; and he knows that his job in the book is merely to tell his side of the story. Later in the introduction, he further makes his intention clear: “What follows will disappoint those who hope to find a gossipy, salacious tale of a show business marriage gone wrong.”
Instead of writing what was probably expected to be a “Hollywood” memoir, Mr. Baldwin has actually written what reads like part memoir, part “How To” book, and part clinical term paper. (Chapter 6 is a clinical breakdown of “Parental Alienation Syndrome.”) It sounds like a weird combination, but it works very well when it comes to recounting the blow-by-blow of one of the most troubled divorces of modern Pop Culture history. It might come as a surprise to some, but Baldwin remains classy throughout the book. The only anguish he really goes into detail about, the only anguish he’s writing his cautionary tale about is that of his separation from his daughter. A separation that was caused by a legal system that is self preserving and impersonal by the descriptions it’s given in this book, and a separation that caused his career to suffer, thanks to his scheduled visits to therapists and his daughter. (There’s finally something to blame the failure of The Cat in the Hat on, besides Mike Meyers.)
By the end of the book, we’ve been privy to stories of how mediation is the best course of action for divorce; how divorce lawyers range from “scum of the Earth” to “guardian angels,” and the very thin difference between the two. The California Family Law system is made out to be a funhouse, and Alec Baldwin is like Orson Welles at the end of The Lady from Shanghai. (Which, oddly enough, starred Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth … another couple ended at the hands of bitter animosity.) Above all else, Baldwin reminds us that in the end this book isn’t going to do anything to recover that time that he lost with his daughter. The best he can do is move on and hope that in time, she will understand the ugly, ugly situation she was put into.
Divorce is never easy to deal with, no matter how you approach it, and sometimes the material in this book is very dry reading. If you’re a law student with a special interest in Family Law proceedings, this is perfect for research purposes because not only does it offer a full personal account of such proceedings, it also cites several good articles on the matters of divorce and in particular PAS. For the reading public, it’s certainly not a beach read. Again, this isn’t a typical Hollywood memoir about how it is to work on the set of “30 Rock,” or how his performance in Glengarry Glen Ross is now standard monologue fair for rising actors. This isn’t a book about the craft, it’s an intimate memoir that hopes to help others avoid the horrid state of affairs that were showcases in a years long divorce. If you want the other side of the Baldwin / Bassinger slug fest that was their divorce, and don’t mind wading through a little legal and psychological research, then I would definitely recommend A Promise to Ourselves. It’s a relatively short book, and it encompasses a lot of life lessons that were learned during this horrific time in Mr. Baldwin’s life. Like him or not, this book is his way to try and help solve the problem of messy, bitter divorces, or at the very least reduce the number of them.
This review is part of the Cannonball Read series. Details about here and the growing number of participants and their blogs, from which these reviews are pulled, are here. And check here for more of Mike R.’s reviews.