Here Comes Trouble: Stories From My Life by Michael Moore (Grand Central Publishing, Sept. 13)

"Here Comes Trouble" (Grand Central Publishing)
Courtesy of Grand Central Publishing
A graceful and interesting look at the controversial filmaker's path to stardom

Michael Moore Here Comes Trouble memoir is graceful and interesting.

Written with restraint and grace, Michael Moore’s new memoir Here Comes Trouble 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 (“who could take you out with a piece of dental floss”).  Its sobering to recall the extent to which the Bush Administration’s efforts  to polarize the political climate and stifle debate about the war’s value made artists like Moore a target and he still seems unnerved by the vitriol.

Moore explores the roots of his political activism in his childhood. Born in Flint, Michigan in 1954, there’s a Wonder Years quality to his memories with Moore playing the role of a more politically engaged but just as charming Kevin Arnold.  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, Kurt Vonnegut, the Slaughterhouse-Five author, befriended 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,” befriended a priest in his hometown of Flint well known for his pacifism.  One day Father Zabelka shared he had been the chaplain to the army pilots who dropped the two atomic bombs on Japan and he had actually blessed the A-bombs, a memory that still haunted him. 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 own 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. Though occasionally uneven, the best parts of Here Comes Trouble are fabulous, offering touching and revealing stories drawn from a fascinating life.