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

Don’t tell Joel Stein I like The Hunger Games

I was taken aback when I read Joel Stein’s essay in The New York Times, “Adults Should Read Adult Books.” He writes that the only thing more embarrassing than seeing an adult looking at pornography on his computer is catching him reading The Hunger Games.

How dare a grown-up read a “children’s book” in public! The least he can do is read it in the privacy of his own home!

Not that Stein has actually read The Hunger Games, mind you. This Stanford-educated guy doesn’t read “children’s books,” and he’s making no exception in this case, at least not until he’s read his way through the 3,000 years of fiction written for adults.

Let’s hope that will keep him so busy he won’t have time to write more inane essays.

It’s not clear to me if Stein actually believes what he’s written or if he’s trying to be provocative. It’s also not clear to me why an essay of this sort deserves to be in The New York Times unless, like many newspapers, they’re desperate for readers and looking to generate plenty of buzz.

I see nothing insightful about Stein’s comments, no fine sensibility or subtlety of thought, though Stein expects as much from adult literature. “Children’s books,” just aren’t up to the challenge of satisfying discriminating grown-up readers. (Stein appears to be unaware of the genre of Young Adult literature, or perhaps discounts it as bogus.)

Stein’s viewpoint (if it is genuine) surprises me because it demands that literature adhere to strictly defined boundaries when, in fact, its boundaries are shifting dramatically in terms of physical form, delivery, and content. That is something to be celebrated.

Hundreds of readers did, indeed, respond to Stein’s viewpoint, most of them defending the value of children’s and YA literature for everyone, young and old.  The other essays in “The Power of Young Adult Fiction,” written by a teen blogger, a librarian, a book reviewer, and three authors, are worth reading.

It seems as though extreme or obnoxious or edgy, in the manner of Stein’s essay, is now the way to rise above the crowd and be heard. Which brings me to the movie, The Hunger Games.

As violent and dramatic as the plot is, I found the style and tone of the movie to be understated. That, in my view, made it all the more powerful. One critic found Jennifer Lawrence (Katniss) to be detached, but I felt that, without carrying on or becoming hysterical, Lawrence radiated terror, courage, and determination. Cinna (Lenny Kravitz), Haymitch (Woody Harrelson), Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), and President Snow (Donald Sutherland) delivered equally strong performances without going over the top.

The blood and gore were mostly offstage, which disappointed some, but I thought it kept the focus on the psychological terror (and made the movie palatable for younger audiences).

John Garder said that in great fiction the writer creates the illusion of a dream world. The reader enters that dream, but with just one false or inauthentic moment the dream vanishes and the connection to the reader is lost. I easily entered The Hunger Games dream and didn’t leave until (reluctantly) the closing credits.

Joel Stein doesn’t know what he’s missing.

Let’s Talk about Hunger Games, the movie

“So what happens when we go back?”

“We try to forget.”

“I don’t want to forget.”

I read a review of The Hunger Games last night after I got home from the theater.

Sometimes I wonder if the critics and I are watching the same movie.

I’d rather hear what you think.

Let’s talk about The Hunger Games movie. Leave your comments below. Who wants to go first?

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