When I was a teenager, I flipped on the TV one weekend and found a strange, enthralling movie on TBS. Soon I was engrossed in the tragic and supernatural story of Carrie White, a bullied teenager who develops telekinetic powers in response to the torments of her classmates and overbearing mother. Based on Stephen King’s novel of the same name, Carrie (1976) stars Sissy Spacek in her breakout role. Although the movie was a good twenty years old by the time I got to see it, I was instantly hooked by this actress who did not have conventional movie-star looks, but whose presence fixed my attention on her raw, heart-wrenching performance. Soon after that, I caught an airing of her Oscar-winning performance portraying county singer Loretta Lynn in Coal Miner’s Daughter (1980). Once again, I saw her take on her role whole-heartedly, adopting a Kentucky accent and belting out Lynn’s country classics in her own singing voice. I was mesmerized, and soon I was hunting down any movie she’d been in. At fourteen, I found my favorite actress. Fourteen years later, if you were to ask me who my favorite actress is, I’d still say Sissy Spacek.
Reading her memoir, My Extraordinary Ordinary Life, I was pleased to find that my perception of Spacek as a down-to-earth, approachable person was accurate. I’ve always thought of her as someone who could easily be a friend or neighbor and her descriptions of a homegrown childhood in rural Texas confirmed my expectations. She spends a good chunk of the book describing her childhood in a supportive, loving family life with her parents and two brothers. Her writing reflects someone whose roots are important to her and whose relationships mean more than a career. She recounts her family history, including anecdotes of her extended family, and a tracing of her roots to her Czech ancestors. She relates how a family tragedy helped spur on her desire to pursue performing with a visit to New York to visit her cousin, actor Rip Torn. While she originally wanted a singing career, through twists of fate, she found a film career instead. Her endearing writing style connects her roles and acting experiences with her childhood memories; for example, she based her character of Nita Longley in Raggedy Man on her mother and a telephone operator from her hometown of Quitman, Texas.
Her memoir features two sections of both color and black-and-white photographs; a nice touch is that the book includes just as many pictures of her childhood memories, her husband (production and art designer Jack Fisk) and her two daughters as it does of her movie stills. The readable prose is divided into four main sections that detail her experiences living in Texas as a child, New York as a young adult, California when her acting career took off, and Virginia, where she and her husband purchased a farm to escape the smog of Los Angeles and create a haven to raise their daughters. What makes the book a pleasant read is that she doesn’t rely on scandal or exposé to tell her story; her book reflects an authentic person who is unafraid to get her hands dirty, both on and off-screen, but she doesn’t rely on digging up dirt on co-stars or family members to sell a book. Instead, she sticks to telling her story from the perspective of an actress who found success but whose happiness lies with her family. My Extraordinary Ordinary Life is a fitting title for an autobiography of a woman whose fame was somewhat accidental but whose life is purposeful.
My rating: Liked it (3 out of 5 stars)
Acknowledgments: I read the Hyperion edition of My Extraordinary Ordinary Life by Sissy Spacek with Maryanne Vollers, copyright 2012. ISBN 978-1-4013-2436-0