The Re-Enactments

By Nick Flynn

(Norton, $15.95, 320 pages)

Who is this author?

Nick Flynn, 53, is a poet, playwright and memoirist who grew up in Scituate, Mass., and once worked at a homeless shelter in Boston. Flynn now lives in Brooklyn and Houston, where he teaches creative writing at the University of Houston. His three poetry collections include “Some Ether,” won the inaugural PEN/Joyce Osterweil Award for Poetry in 1999. More recently, he’s become known for his three penetrating memoirs, the provocatively titled “Another Bullshit Night in Suck City” (2004),which won a PEN/Martha Albrand Award, and “The Ticking Is the Bomb” (2010) and “The Re-Enactments.” He is married to actress Lili Taylor.

What is this book about?

Nick Flynn knows who would play him in a movie about his life, because that has already happened. The actor Paul Dano played him in “Being Flynn” (based on his best-selling “Another Bullshit Night in Suck City,” whose title evidently was considered too raunchy for the multiplex marquee), and Robert DiNiro took the role of Flynn’s mercurial alcoholic father. Julianne Moore played his mother, who ended her life with a shotgun suicide. Out of this tragic family have come books about various stages of Flynn’s life

This book is a memoir about a movie about a memoir, and it is a brilliant exposition of the intricacies of grieving, of representing reality and of making art. Imagine being on a movie set where the most dramatic, painful and occasionally funny experiences of your life are being re-enacted by strangers. Flynn captures the surreality of that reality in a deeply thoughtful way.

Why you’ll like it:

Remember, Flynn is at heart a poet. That pretty much guarantees the writing in “The Re-Enactments” will be lyrical and supple, and it is. He knows that memory is unreliable and that what we recall comes in bits and pieces that confuse as much as they comfort, but he is adept at using these fragments to create a powerful whole. These insights, as well as his command of beautiful language, give this book its power.

What others are saying:

Writing in the Boston Globe, Clea Simon asks: “How would you cast your life, if Hollywood were making a film of it? What would it mean to have a huge star play your alcoholic con man father? A famous actress your suicidal mother? …And so, on the set with Robert De Niro, Julianne Moore, and Paul Dano (who played the author), he chronicled and examined the 2011 experience, exploring the regrets and absurdity of seeing your worst days portrayed by others for the silver screen. The resulting book, “The Reenactments,” is a kind of memoir about a memoir, a study of art and process, and also a reexamination of trauma that must have once seemed safely filed away……In Flynn’s hands, however, these memories and updatings become something more. It helps that this book isn’t entirely about the film. Flynn digresses frequently, into post-memoir updates on various characters, as well as meditations on the science of phantom limbs and Harvard’s famed glass flowers. It also helps that his writing, always specific and honest, can be dryly funny, as well.” says: “What could be more disquieting than to work in a homeless shelter and have your long-estranged father turn up one night for a bed? For Nick Flynn, very little, other than sitting on a movie set and watching the moment re-created by celebrated actors.

The Massachusetts-bred memoirist hit the writer’s jackpot in 2004, recounting his bizarre homeless-shelter reunion in “Another Bull- Night in Suck City,” the memoir that dare not speak its full name in so many media outlets. Chronicling an operatic family history that included his mother’s shotgun suicide and his alcoholic father’s stints in the slammer, it seemed a natural for big-screen treatment. …In “The Reenactments,” his moving reflections on the weirdness of serving as a movie consultant on your own life, Flynn is digging for deeper treasure than might be mined in a DVD supplement on the making of a movie. Abetted by a poet’s divining rod for the illuminating metaphor, he probes the most fundamental questions about the nature of memory and the terrible urge to revisit and preserve one’s past in the aspic of art….”

Kirkus Reviews says: “Flynn …. writes about having his memoir made into a movie. ….This new memoir is told as a series of short, almost pointillist vignettes–most a page or less–creating a complex patchwork of thoughts and ruminations on memory. Flynn systematically tries to make sense of his roiling emotions as he cycles through episodes from his and his parents’ lives. The inherent surreality of having your life portrayed by actors is a major theme. Describing a table reading of the film script, Flynn writes, “De Niro opens his mouth and my father comes out, then Dano opens his mouth and I come out, then Julianne opens her mouth.” Several times, Flynn uses a quote from another writer–Joan Didion, Friedrich Nietzsche, Simone Weil and others–as a springboard to a new thought or to sharpen a previous one. ….Flynn’s determination to better understand his life through the act of writing and remembering has yielded a truly insightful, original work.”

When is it available?

Flynn’s memoir is on the shelf at the Downtown Hartford Public Library.

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