Book Review: Brian Ellis on Bridget Fonda by Elizabeth Ellen

If I were going to name this poetry collection after a celebrity I would name it Bridget Fonda.

 

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Bridget Fonda (the celebrity) lives in Los Angeles, California, and is an American actress who was in the third (and arguably weakest) Godfather movie (she is also the niece of Jane Fonda, who won an Academy Award for playing a call girl in the 1971 movie Klute, which co-starred Donald Sutherland); Bridget Fonda (the book) is a collection of raw, autobiographical poems written by Elizabeth Ellen, who lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan. [Fun Fact: The three most popular results when googling “famous people named Ellen” are “Ellen DeGeneres,” “Ellen Page,” and “Ellen Barkin.”]

 

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In the book Bridget Fonda, Elizabeth Ellen is a writer/wife/mom/aspiring drummer/volunteer at a therapeutic equestrian center who wishes she were more Beyoncé (empowered, confident) than late-career Jim Carrey (desperate, unhinged); in the movie Point of No Return (1993), Bridget Fonda plays a government assassin who falls in love with a character played by Dermot Mulroney.

 

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I walked around a series of empty rooms not feeling like anyone’s
possession. It didn’t feel as good as I thought.

(“Everyone Hates Me Now, So What?”)

 

 

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Bridget Fonda’s screen debut (as “Child in Commune”) was in the movie Easy Rider (1969), which starred her father (Peter); in the book Bridget Fonda, Elizabeth Ellen grew up without a biological dad and would send Father’s Day cards to both of her mother’s ex-husbands, Stan and Steve (AKA “Wolfie,” from whom Ellen bought pot as a college student).

 

 

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I remember the night I realized my mom was having an affair.
A good friend of Steve’s had moved in with us temporarily after his wife
shot herself with his gun while he was at work.
Part of me wanted Steve to know what a horrible person my mother was.
But I couldn’t do it; I knew my loyalty was to my mother.

 

 

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In the movie Single White Female (1992), Bridget Fonda plays the woman with the bowl cut hairdo with whom Jennifer Jason Leigh’s character becomes bat-shit obsessed; in the book Bridget Fonda, the relationship Elizabeth Ellen shares with her teenage daughter from a previous marriage appears wonky at times, like the mother/daughter roles have been inexplicably reversed à la the 1976/2003 movie Freaky Friday (or like the 1988 movie Vice Versa, depending on gender specifics).

 

 

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I pulled a small bottle of Jack Daniels from my purse, opened it and took
a drink.
“What are you doing?” my daughter said.
(It was uncharacteristic of me to carry bottles of alcohol in my purse or to
drink outside of my basement.)
“I was going to surprise you with it later,” I said.
I handed the bottle out to her.
She made a face and shook her head.
“We can’t drink on the street like crackheads,” she said.
I pulled her into an alcove of a store front, took another drink and handed
her the bottle again.
“We’re in New York City. No one gives a shit,” I said.

 

 

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Bridget Fonda is married to Danny Elfman, the guy who made all that zany Tim Burton music and who also fronted Oingo Boingo, the band Rodney Dangerfield hires to play his keg party in the movie Back to School (1986); Elizabeth Ellen is married to author Aaron Burch, who wrote a book (Backswing) that may/may not be about golf, and together they run a popular literary journal (Hobart)/publishing press (Short Flight/Long Drive) and may/may not enjoy the song “Deadman’s Party.”

 

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Tanja didn’t have anything to say about Silverchair’s ‘Tomorrow.’
I couldn’t get over the lyrics.
I wanted to know why the water was so hard to drink or what that was a
metaphor for.
“Maybe it’s not a metaphor for anything,” Tanja said. “Maybe the water
in Australia or wherever they’re from is literally hard to drink.”
I felt unsatisfied with this answer.
I couldn’t believe a person who thought ‘Closing Time’ was about the
birth of a baby didn’t have a theory about ‘Tomorrow.’

 

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In the 1992 Cameron Crowe movie Singles, Bridget Fonda’s character is infatuated with Matt Dillon’s character (a greasy-haired singer in a fictional grunge-rock band called Citizen Dick); in the book Bridget Fonda, Elizabeth Ellen has a peculiar, non-ironic allegiance to the singer Kid Rock (who has greasy hair and is probably a dick IRL).

 

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I wish there was a way to laugh at the beginning or end of a poem like
rappers do at the beginning of songs or like Kid Rock does at the end of
‘Bawitdaba.’

 

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Bridget Fonda has been nominated for a Golden Globe Award (twice), an Emmy Award, an Independent Spirit Award, and a Blockbuster Entertainment Award (which probably no longer exists since Blockbuster Video is RIP); Elizabeth Ellen has won a Pushcart Prize, which is a literary award that may/may not still exist since literature is mostly RIP. [Fun Fact: In the 1989 movie Strapless, Bridget Fonda plays a character named “Amy Hempel,” which may/may not be based on the writer Amy Hempel, who, like Elizabeth Ellen, is also a Pushcart Prize-winner.]

 

 

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I always feel like I am waiting now for what I’ve heard referred to as an
‘aha!’ moment so I will know what to do but the ‘aha!’ moment never
arrives and instead I am inundated with a lot of smaller ‘hmmm’
moments that don’t add up to much and so I don’t do anything or make
any decisions.

 

 

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Bridget Fonda the person once said (according to IMDB), “I’m afraid of making a mistake. I’m not totally neurotic, but I’m pretty neurotic about it. I’m as close to totally neurotic as you can get without being totally neurotic,” and those same phobias/hang-ups are what drive the poems in Bridget Fonda the book, and reading them (again and again, in my case) you’ll feel as though you’ve been taken hostage, like you’ve been stuffed and then zipped inside of Elizabeth Ellen’s emotional baggage, which is okay because it’s warm in there and you can relate to all the problems that arise when she’s trying to connect with family, friends, and strangers—to her present and past demons—and you’ll feel better about yourself because, like her, you aren’t always sure about everything, and you don’t always feel loved or vested, and sometimes you’re just a person on a bathroom floor who is sobbing into a towel wishing they could accept themselves for what they are, whatever that is and why.

 

 

 

All quotations taken from  Bridget Fonda  by Elizabeth Ellen  (Dostoyevsky Wannabe, 2015).

Brian Alan Ellis is the author of several books. His writing has appeared at JukedHobartMonkeybicycleVol. 1 Brooklyn, and Atticus Review, among other places. He lives in Florida, and if he were to name his poetry collection after a celebrity he would name it Road Warrior Hawk (RIP).

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