Monday, March 26, 2012

Book Review: Untied

A Book You Can Buy From Me

Book Title: Untied

Author: Meredith Baxter

Publisher: Crown

Date: 2011

Length: 287 pages
ISBN: 0307719316

Quote: "I didn't want to just write about the coming-out experience. I hoped I had more to offer than that."

And so she has.

There are homosexual lobbyists who would like to read Untied as a story of "After three failed marriages, Meredith Baxter found lasting love and inner peace in the arms of a woman."

There are evangelical Christians who would like to read Untied as a story of "Although Meredith Baxter groped her way up from alcoholism, without salvation-as-preached-by-Our-Church she was doomed to remain in a condition of sin and misery, so now this poor lost soul is temporarily in the delusively happy phase of a lesbian romance, which is sure to disappoint her."

Whew. I read it as a more straightforward story: As the child of a divorced stage mother, with an agent-stepfather who didn't actually molest her but did once try to rent her to a friend as a weekend companion, Meredith Baxter had an unhappy early life. She coped by becoming an alcoholic.

Having inherited a high tolerance for alcohol, Baxter was able to remain competent as an actress even while she was drinking heavily on the set. Connections in Hollywood helped. She wasn't great; the sitcom where she was the star bombed, and the sitcom where she became famous kept her in the background, and most of her other acting jobs were in made-for-TV movies--but she was adequate for the parts she got, and didn't look hung-over or sound drunk, although she was. Still, she has few memories of the years of her greatest success, on "Family Ties." If you're looking for the kind of behind-the-scenes-at-your-favorite-TV-show stories found in Prairie Tales (previously discussed here), Untied will disappoint you. (I was. It did.)

One thing Baxter shares that may be news to some of her fans is that, although "Bridget Loves Bernie" was about an Irish-American woman married to a Jewish man, and although Baxter married her co-star David Birney, in real life Baxter isn't Irish-American...Birney is.

Another thing she shares is that, although she's still naturally top-heavy, she had one of those rare non-fatal forms of breast cancer. Even moderate use of alcohol (e.g. one glass of red wine at dinner every day) is now known to promote the development of breast cancer. Baxter's third husband expressed more concern about the chances of her remaining top-heavy than about the chances of her surviving surgery, which adequately explains why they divorced.

With her career and health in decline, Baxter finally "hit bottom" when others started to notice that she was an alcoholic. She joined Alcoholics Anonymous and entered therapy, and began to turn her life around. And she didn't meet another man to marry--although by that time she admits to having become commitment-phobic. She met a woman instead.

Purely for demographic reasons, my bet on this fourth relationship would be: Baxter and the woman she introduces as Nancy will stay together, not necessarily "in love" but accepting each other as roommates and care givers, at least until one of them becomes disabled. That's primarily because, after age sixty, a woman's chance of finding a man to marry is microscopic, and most women know it and appreciate any prospective care givers they have.

And although I don't think either the church or the state needs to recognize such relationships as marriage, I think both the church and the state should recognize any care-giving relationship, whether it's ever been sexual or parent-like or business-related or whatever, as having some legal status and meaning. I think the homosexual lobby made a huge mistake by demanding that this kind of relationship be identified as marriage, which generates lots of opposition, rather than making common cause with all the other people who actually care about elders--whether the elders are widowed, divorced, or still married to equally disabled partners. If the homosexual lobby would only get behind the issue of care givers' rights, they would (finally) be doing something worthwhile for humankind.

So, blame attention-craving Perez Hilton for "outing" and exploiting a relationship Baxter would have preferred (and should have been allowed) to keep private. Meanwhile, although Baxter writes as someone who's still in therapy and who has yet to complete all Twelve Steps, I vote we thank her for sharing her struggles with alcoholism and dysfunctional relationships on all levels, and wish her well in the rest of her life.

E-mail to buy it online for $5 plus $5 shipping, or, if you're in the area, visit Mountain Treasures for a better price on a mold-exposed but still clean-looking copy.