The Reenactments: A Memoir

Overview

A literary tour de force about the making of a film and representation from a master of the memoir form.
For Nick Flynn, that game we all play—the who-would-play-you-in-the-movie-of-your-life game—has been resolved. The Reenactments chronicles the surreal experience of being on set during the making of the film Being Flynn, from his best-selling memoir Another Bullshit Night in Suck City, and watching the central events of his life reenacted: his father's long run of ...

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Overview

A literary tour de force about the making of a film and representation from a master of the memoir form.
For Nick Flynn, that game we all play—the who-would-play-you-in-the-movie-of-your-life game—has been resolved. The Reenactments chronicles the surreal experience of being on set during the making of the film Being Flynn, from his best-selling memoir Another Bullshit Night in Suck City, and watching the central events of his life reenacted: his father's long run of homelessness and his mother's suicide. Flynn tells the story of Robert De Niro's first meeting with his real father in Boston and of watching Julianne Moore attempt to throw herself into the sea. The result is a mesmerizingly sharp-edged and kaleidoscopic literary tour de force as well as a compelling argument about consciousness, representation, and grief.

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Editorial Reviews

Dani Shapiro
“Eloquent, precise, intense and profoundly moving, The Reenactments is a powerful and beautiful story about grief, survival, and making art.”
Darin Strauss
“Some words we associate with good memoirs. ("Moving;" "brave.") And there are some—even with the best memoirs—we just don't. ("Intellectually challenging;" "formally adventurous.") Nick Flynn's The Reenactments is all these things, it is sui generis, it will make you cry. I read this book in a very short time. I won't stop thinking about it for a very long time.”
Rebecca Solnit
“Maybe only poets should be allowed to write memoirs, because they know that our perception is partial, our recollection is worse, and the world is made of shards and fragments that make patterns, but leave gaps and sharp edges. Nick Flynn's excellent new memoir embraces the unknown and unknowable as the very core of our experience.”
Joshua Cody
“Not only are films themselves composed of interiors and exteriors, but their creations are, as well. I've never read a book that has captured this fact so precisely, so movingly. The familiar hierarchies are reordered. Flynn has by now fashioned his own world of language, within which he can perform feat after revelatory feat.”
Kirkus Reviews
Flynn (The Ticking Is the Bomb, 2010, etc.) writes about having his memoir made into a movie. In Another Bullshit Night in Suck City (2004), Flynn told the story of reconnecting with his homeless and alcoholic father when the author was working at a Boston homeless shelter in the late 1980s, after Flynn's mother had committed suicide years earlier. That memoir became the basis for a movie, Being Flynn, filmed in 2011 and released this year, starring Robert De Niro and Julianne Moore as his parents. (Actor Paul Dano, of There Will Be Blood fame, portrayed Flynn himself.) 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. He also analyzes other works of art, from glass flowers to a scene from The Godfather Part II to an obscure Samuel Beckett/Buster Keaton film. Flynn's determination to better understand his life through the act of writing and remembering has yielded a truly insightful, original work.
The Barnes & Noble Review

A kindly shrink once told me—following a discussion about clouds that look like floating pneumatic yaks—that I have "a little Jewish yak" on my shoulder: a monitoring presence, that is, small and woolly but quite severe, tracking my every move and supplying ceaseless, not-always- helpful commentary. Yakking on, as he put it. I proffer this tidbit in a spirit of literary-scientific communion with Nick Flynn, whose memoir is full of musings about consciousness, self-consciousness, memory, mental pictures, phantom limbs, etc. "This imagined someone inside our heads, watching the movie in our brains, is known among neurobiologists as "the homunculus." Some call it "the ghost in the machine." Or "the little Jewish yak."

Flynn is a Bostonian poet whose 2004 memoir, Another Bullshit Night in Suck City, recorded his mother's suicide, his father's alcoholism, and his own difficulties as a worker at the Pine Street Inn, Boston?s largest homeless shelter. As Flynn Sr. joined the homeless population, father and son would encounter one another in overlapping chemical spirals, generally heading downward. But they both survived, and Flynn Jr. wrote Another Bullshit Night in Suck City, and it was very good, and it gathered awards, and after a few years, in the way of these things, someone in Hollywood had the idea of making a movie out of it—which forms the matter of The Reenactments. Flynn worked closely with director Paul Weitz on what would eventually become Being Flynn, starring Robert De Niro and Julianne Moore. He scouted locations, consulted with the actors, sat in as the cameras rolled on scene after counterfeited scene of his life. And, being a thoughtful man, he was not untroubled in his mind. Scanning the endorsements on the book?s back cover, I am astonished that not one of them makes use of the blurbist's go-to word: meditation. "The Reenactments is a powerful, lyrical meditation on grief and art." It would almost be forgivable in this case. What does it mean to watch Julianne Moore preparing to reenact your mother's death-by- shotgun? Or to hear that Robert De Niro is having a couple of teeth removed, the better to play your indigent father?

The Flynn of The Reenactments is living through two movies: the traumatic inner replay of his mother's death and his father's madness, which loops constantly through his head, and the Hollywood production now staging these scenes with all its props and paraphernalia. He worries that he is misremembering, or fabricating his memories—that fabricating is actually what memory does. "What if she had died before the invention of film?" he wonders. "Would I still run the movie of her death over and over in my mind, would my mind even be able to imagine it could? Or would it be more like turning the pages of a book? What if she had died before the invention of books?"

By way of penetrating into these and other questions, Flynn loads his book with deep thinkers and heavyweight citations. "Nietzsche offers this... Simone Weil offers this... According to Freud... Walter Benjamin, on the idea of collective memory, offers this..." His chronology is irregular, his pacing intuitive; he proceeds in images and thought-sized chunks, some a few pages long, some only a line or two. Schrödinger's Cat pops up, as does Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle and some of the latest stuff from Buddhism. The Reenactments is prevented, however, from becoming a mere "faddish miscellany" (as Alex Beam called David Shields's similarly structured The Thing About Life Is That One Day You?ll Be Dead) by the unavoidable interestingness of both the author and his predicament.

Paul Dano, the actor playing him in the movie, sends Flynn an email a few days before filming starts, a list of questions: "Do you have any tattoos? Did you wear a watch?" And the final one: "Where are your scars?" The original meaning of the word catharsis, Flynn tells us, the Greek meaning, involved "a daily practice—we woke up each day with who we were, with our particular sorrows and struggles, and each day we had to find a way to carry through." No blinding flash, in other words, no healing meltdown. Robert De Niro is introduced to Flynn Sr., his character, now eighty and in a care facility. After talking unstoppably and obliviously for an hour, the old man zeroes in at last on the movie star. "So, you do a little acting? my father asks. You like to act? De Niro smiles, shrugs: Yeah, I do a little acting."

Where does acting end and being begin? Wobbling out of a session with his Manhattan therapist, at which he has been lying on his back, reaching up "into the nothingness above me" and begging his mother not to go, Flynn finds himself in crowded Columbus Circle. "I'm a little spacey. A woman jumps in front of my bike, holding a small red sign up to me, which I cannot make out. Get out of the movie, she yells. I slow down, look around. Movie? It looks like I am simply in New York on a Saturday morning. It seems impossible—is everyone else in the whole city in this movie except me? I look around for the camera, the lights, anything. Get out of the movie, she yells again." But he can?t.

James Parker is the author of Turned On: A Biography of Henry Rollins (Cooper Square Press), and a correspondent for The Atlantic.

Reviewer: James Parker

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393344356
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 1/7/2013
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 440,840
  • Product dimensions: 5.62 (w) x 8.06 (h) x 0.82 (d)

Meet the Author

Nick Flynn is the author of Another Bullshit Night in Suck City, winner of the PEN/Martha Albrand Award, and The Ticking Is the Bomb. He divides his time between Houston and Brooklyn.

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