'Here Comes Trouble'

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Michael Moore writes an illuminating and sometimes jolting memoir.

Written with restraint and grace, Michael Moore's Here Comes Trouble: Stories From My Life confirms his reputation as a great storyteller and reveals himself to be an insightful memoirist. The book opens with an extended recap of his controversial Oscar speech accepting the best documentary award for Bowling for Columbine in 2003. Four days into the Iraq War, he said, "We have a man sending us to war for fictitious reasons. … Shame on you, Mr. Bush." The negative reaction was swift -- a stagehand whispered "asshole" -- and scary; he received credible death threats. Moore ended up hiring a team of ex-Navy SEALs for protection, and he's still unnerved by the way the Bush administration's efforts to polarize the political climate and stifle debate about the war's value made artists like him a target.

He goes on to explore the roots of his political activism in his childhood. Born in Flint, Mich., in 1954, there's a Wonder Years quality to his memories. But then the reader is jolted out of the nostalgia by a sudden turn in some stories -- a botched abortion in one, the secret homosexuality of a friend in another -- that reveal a political edge to the sentimentality.

He's led a Forrest Gump-like existence, and there are famous cameos throughout. Most are just cotton candy tales -- puffed up but lacking substance: meeting Bobby Kennedy, hanging up on John Lennon, witnessing the fall of the Berlin Wall. But two stories stand out. First, the late Kurt Vonnegut befriends him after the Oscar debacle -- a sweet but tough old man urging him to "get back" into the political fray. Second, Moore, a self-described "recovering Catholic," befriends a priest well known for his pacifism in Flint. One day, Father Zabelka shared that he had been the chaplain to the pilots who dropped the atomic bombs on Japan; he'd even blessed the bombs. In a poignant and moving passage, Moore describes how the priest's efforts to bring him back to the church were a metaphor for Zabelka's struggle to reconcile the war and his faith. "I realized he was talking about himself and … the demons he still carried. … I wasn't offended that he thought I needed 'saving.' It was an easy thing to forgive him for." It is a beautiful essay --worth the whole book.

Moore ends the book with the filming of Roger & Me, his first documentary; the full story of his film career will have to wait for a second volume. Although occasionally uneven, the best parts of Here Comes Trouble are fabulous, offering touching and revealing stories drawn from a fascinating life.

Author Michael Moore (Grand Central Publishing, 448 pages, $28.95)