As celebrity memoirs go, Sharon Stone's is a bit of a misfit. But so too was the 63-year-old star herself, she writes, as a child in rural Pennsylvania, and then as an actor in Hollywood, where she resisted the status quo — sometimes to her detriment of her career, but always being true to herself.

The Beauty of Living Twice gets its title from a harrowing health crisis Stone suffered in 2001, when she was hospitalized for a brain hemorrhage. The doctors struggled to identify the problem, but she survived, she writes, because her grandmother Lela — who had been dead for 30 years — appeared to her in a dream and directed her not to move her neck. She did as she was told. And she was saved despite a 1 percent chance of survival.

"I don't miss her," Stone writes of her former self, the person she had been before that terrifying turning point at age 43. "It's like she is a person I knew very intimately, but not me. I remember my childhood, I remember the majority of my life, like every person in their sixties. But my feelings are objective about before."

That objectivity comes across in her accounts of her childhood, which she recalls matter-of-factly, almost as someone who watched rather than experienced it. The second of four children, she was a precocious child who grew into a tough, determined young woman. She has some fond memories of her youth, but the defining episode of her young life is the book's most disturbing: She and her younger sister were sexually abused as children by their maternal grandfather.

Opening up about this trauma (to her mother especially) and "forgiving the unforgivable" is the other major recovery that characterizes Stone's second life. The book includes almost no detail at all about her romantic history, and there's relatively little here, too, about her experience in Hollywood, except as being mostly incidental to the actress' more spiritual evolution. She does get into Basic Instinct, which she calls "the most freeing thing I have ever done," having allowed her to "[tap] into that rage" against her grandfather.

The Beauty of Living Twice by Sharon Stone
Credit: Knopf

Among her industry memories are some sadly unsurprising instances of vile Hollywood sexism, but she indulges in some of the genre's requisite thrilling name-drops, too: Learning to fight opposite Arnold Schwarzenegger for Total Recall; hosting an amfAR gala with Madonna; sharing a stage with Patti Smith or a dance with John Travolta; and, in a funny surprise, attending a seminar with Marianne Williamson, who was "not at all like she came across in her presidential run." She crosses paths with such people merely because she happened to become a movie star, but Stone's primary objective here is clearly not to wax nostalgic about the glamour of the '90s (though she has some great Cannes and Oscars anecdotes) but to share what she's learned about healing, forgiveness, and service.

Stone has a sense of humor, especially about some of the more bizarre occurrences of her life, but the writing falls flat sometimes, too; more than one clearly intended mic drop fails to make an impact. In all honesty, I found some of her reflections to be needlessly patronizing, some of her commentary misguided (especially regarding a 2008 interview flub about China); in short, her voice didn't always speak to me. But she definitely has her own voice, and a strong one — she makes clear that she's learned in her life to insist on having it — and her story itself is undeniable, however any reader responds to her telling of it.

Stone's narration jumps between memories linked by feeling rather than chronology, and it can become disorienting, unclear who she was at the time of any moment she dives into, especially because of the diversity of her experience. She acknowledges that "this book is but a bit of a full and complex life," but it could stand to be a rounder, more legible fragment. In many ways the memoir didn't bring me much closer to knowing who she is except to learn that she herself knows who she is — a hard-won privilege. After unfathomable trauma and pain and loss and disaster, she's still standing, sharing this story from her own perspective, and now looking ahead to a path of her own making. There's real beauty in living like that. B–

The Beauty of Living Twice is now available.

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