I enjoyed When Harry Met Sally. I found Sleepless in Seattle and You’ve Got Mail a bit sugary for my taste. I didn’t really fall for Nora Ephron until Julie and Julia. I loved that movie. I don’t make movies, so I don’t know exactly how her directing contributed to the movie. Meryl Streep was a great Julia Child, but then again she’s been great as a lot of characters. Amy Adams I didn’t know. Maybe she’s naturally great too.
I do write. I found Nora Ephron’s screenplay deeply inspiring. Like a cut of meat that an expert cook had taken her knife to, she trimmed away every morsel of fat. Every line had me laughing, or nodding my head as I got another aspect of one of the characters. I shook my head at the deftness with which she wove the two stories together, with juicy transitions that transcended the merely clever, delivering the shock of delight that comes when you feel lines and characters sprout wings and take flight –into the realm of story.
Julie and Julia both captivated me. But what won my heart was that story. And its creator.
When I saw the movie in 2009 I was five years into the grueling task of writing my memoir. I started with no experience writing, so any book would have been difficult to do. This one was that much harder because I’d set the goal so high. I not only wanted to write a coming-of-age, father-son memoir, but wanted to weave in the history of the late 1960s –a perilous era that for some reason has defeated most comers, whether in book or film.
In preparing to write my book I read over fifty published memoirs. It should have given me pause. For the vast majority of them were deeply flawed. Rambling. Too long. Whining, with unsympathetic characters. And worst, boring. I eventually learned that this was not necessarily the fault of the writers. That using yourself and your life as a subject is difficult. It’s almost impossible to find the right narrative distance, and to discern what is going to be interesting to a reader. If you are a typical writer, you are narcissistic enough that your life is intrinsically fascinating. That is usually not the case for your reader.
If Julie and Julia had been fiction it would have been a considerable feat. But Nora created it from two real life stories. Though in blog form, Julie’s was essentially like mine – a memoir. Julia’s was a biography of the first great public cook. Taking the immutable facts of these stories, Nora spun nothing short of narrative magic. Her story flowed, surprised and dazzled - like a good novel.
So I looked at my own task and took heart. If Nora Ephron could blissfully marry the stories of Julie and Julia, I could weave my father, me and the 60s into something that people would enjoy reading.