By Jeff Walsh
As a Rosie O'Donnell fan, I tore into my review copy of "Celebrity Detox" as soon as it arrived. Prior to her joining The View, I would only watch when I liked one of the guests or I'd occasionally read along with the subtitles on the TVs at the gym. Upon her arrival, I set the show to tape every day on my TIVO, watching the opening "Hot Topics" segments over breakfast and usually deleting the rest.
Her charm has always been her lack of a filter. Of course, when she had her own show, she still had one big filter: the closet. She only came out right at the tail end of her successful run. But, it seemed once she came out, she couldn't be bothered with any filters anymore. Whatever she thought, she said.
"It has always been of absolute importance to me to speak my mind, for better or for worse," she writes in the book. "Because I don't actually have a choice. It's my mind. It's not a car I can trade in for something slicker, or smoother, or sweeter. It's all I have to offer."
Which is what she serves up, as anyone will learn upon reading "Celebrity Detox." It is almost charming to see such an unedited manuscript be published, as you get to see her thought process flit from one random thought to another throughout the book. The book certainly has the feel that it wasn't overly-polished or edited, that we are getting Rosie's take on things and not in the abbreviated cryptic prose she favors on her blog.
This warts-and-all approach is what you would expect from Rosie, and what will provide her detractors with as much ammunition as they need. It is a bit uneven, though. There are long sections on Barbra Streisand, yet only one fleeting reference that she used to break her own bones with a baseball bat as a child because she craved the attention.
Rosie writes how two important women in her life were introduced to her consciousness by her mother, who died when she was ten years old. The two women: Barbra Streisand and Barbara Walters, both trailblazers in their own ways. In some way, Rosie seems to spend a lot of time filling the gap in her life left by her mother's death. It is why, when Walters doesn't adequately defend her from Donald Trump's attacks during her run on The View, it isn't coming from just a boss, or a co-worker, but a maternal figure in her life.
Here is how she describes her initial interaction with Walters in meetings the summer before she joined the cast: "I am a fat, loud, say-it-like-it-is-far-left-liberal while Barbara is a petite, poised, cautious, polite hostess. Why did we think the combination could work? Why did I think the combination could work? Simple. I wanted her to like me. Maybe even love me."
The notion that stand-up comics are wounded people who make people laugh while they are in pain is not unique, but it certainly rings true here. It is also perplexing to read a book about someone deconstructing fame from a celebrity perspective, and the pains and decisions she makes to avoid fame and celebrity because she'd rather have time to paint and be with her kids, all of which is in a published book which seemingly keeps her in the media and took time away from her painting and kids. I'm not saying this to be cute, just that it is a constant battle between polar opposites, and there is no easy solution for her.
It was interesting that the turning point for Rosie was the Donald Trump incident, or rather, Walters' reaction to it, when a lot of the media attention was focused on her split-screen feud with Elisabeth that served as her final day on the show. That incident isn't in the book at all.
I don't want to sugar coat the review too much, though. Part of what makes Rosie polarizing to some people is on display in the book. A warm day in New York City, when it should be a cold winter, has her surfing websites about global warming and dying polar bears. And her questioning why we follow celebrity culture when there are so many bigger issues going on is a valid point. Personally, I am appalled at how much I know about the comings and goings of Britney Spears, seeing as I'm not even the least bit interested in her as a singer. However, this is Rosie's example in the book:
"9/11 happened so what relevance does all this star stuff have?
Print that on your page.
What's it look like?
Those are the mouths of people in planes,
As they become bombs.
You can't change the channel.
there's no other show.
Let's not pretend otherwise, okay?"
I mean, I may not need to know about celebrity culture, but this pulls me too far in the other direction. But, as I noted earlier, the book jumps all over the place, so nothing sticks around long enough to get annoying.
The title of the book is that Rosie left her own talk show because she felt she needed time to detox from celebrity and fame, and learn how to be a mother, a wife, a parent who could pick her kids up at school without drawing attention. Her return to television on The View gave her more of a work-life balance than her own show, but not the freedom and creative control she wanted and to which she was accustomed. And, not matter how well laid the plans were, celebrity has a way of changing lives whether they want it to or not.
I'm not certain that this can be considered a great book about celebrity culture. It is also not a dishy behind the scenes look at Rosie's year on The View. It is also not a memoir or autobiography of Rosie. If you want some insight into her coming out, finding her partner, being a lesbian mom, or just being in a long-term relationship... you won't find that here, either. At best, its main charm comes from Rosie being so fractured and real, and doing so much of it in public way.
Rosie canceled all of her media interviews for this book, because she's not ready to talk about what she wrote in this book. By comparison, Oprah had the same trepidation about a memoir she wrote but just decided not publish hers. So, the book itself is part of Rosie's ongoing tug-of-war between all of these warring parts of her life.
In the book, Rosie uses the term "yellow," to refer to "what is good with our world." The elation she experiences at a Broadway show, hearing Barbra sing, seeing a Tom Cruise movie, or interacting with her partner, kids, or close friends.
But there seems to be a level of distraction here, an extra level of seeking joy where it should just exist without trying. You shouldn't have to gravitate toward joy to distract from sorrow.
Yellow is also the last visible hue before a bruise disappears. Hopefully this book is one more step for Rosie on that path.