In Stories We Tell, Sarah Polley knows how to tell a story

If you told your siblings you wanted to interview them on camera for several hours about the most private family matters, do you think they would do it?

And do you think anyone else would find it interesting?

Filmmaker Sara Polley’s family pulled this off brilliantly, maybe because many of them have acted on the stage and screen. They are all wickedly funny and not at all shy about saying just about anything.

I wanted to write about Stories We Tell even though it’s not a book, because I enjoy memoir and, to me, this documentary is a kind of family memoir on screen, expertly told.

If you watch the trailer, you might think you know what Stories We Tell is about (I did), but you won’t know the half of it. There is a mystery at the heart of this story and Sarah knows how to reveal the truth, or as close as she can get to it, layer by layer. When you least expect it, someone drops a little bombshell and the picture you’ve formed in your mind of Sarah’s family and her mother, a woman with secrets, changes dramatically.

You will like the Polley family. They are beautiful, funny, brave people. It’s interesting to me that Sarah is at the heart of this family mystery yet she keeps herself largely off stage and lets others tell the story.

There are so many memoirs being published now, many with themes that are quite bleak. Memoirs don’t have to be sad and filled with suffering. And having an unusual or tragic experience doesn’t necessarily warrant a book. A good memoir has a distinctive voice, an unusual, startling, or fresh perspective, and a compelling story.

Just like the story of Sarah and her family.

A FEW OF MY FAVORITE MEMOIRS:

Cross Creek, by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

The Irrational Season, by Madeleine L’Engle

Dakota book coverDakota, by Kathleen Norris

The Liars’ Club, by Mary Karr

The Mistress’s Daughter, by A.M. Homes

In The Neighborhood book coverIn the Neighborhood: The Search for Community on an American Street One Sleepover at a Time, by Peter Lovenheim

A Homemade Life, by Molly Wizenberg

Home Cooking book coverHome Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen, by Laurie Colwin

9 responses

  1. Your last comment on memoirs – they should have a distinctive voice and compelling story, I just finished reading Ava’s Man by Rick Bragg. It’s about the grandfather he never know, one that affects him still from the grave. Ava’s man, Charlie and their family lived in the rural south during the Depression. Charlie moved his family back and forth across state lines following jobs. He loved his wife and children, so much so that it was difficult for them to talk about him 42 years after he died. Charlie worked hard, drank hard, fought hard when he had to and was well loved and respected. He was not a saint but his family knew he would be there for them. The tone of the story was such that I grew to love Charlie too and was sad when the story ended. I’m going to pick up All Over but the Shouting by Rick Bragg too, another saga of his family.

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