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A collage of sorts: Book review of ‘Then Again’ by Diane Keaton

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Diane Keaton has woven a nice acting career performing various characters, but more specifically characters that are very girl/woman next door – the breed of women who are pretty and pleasant with a side serving of quirky. Along the way she has done some extraordinary things such as winning an Academy Award for Best Actress (Annie Hall) being one of the first high profile Hollywood actresses to take on the mantle of director, adopting two children in her fifties, and dating the likes of Woody Allen, Warren Beatty, and her Godfather co-star Al Pacino. It is no surprise that much of her motivation can be attributed to her family and it is her family who serve as the thrust of her memoir while her celebrity life takes second place.

It is an interesting choice and one that has made me think about what the reading public really wants in its celebrity biographies.

Keaton makes note that her mother was her main supporter when it came to the pursuit of acting as a career. Keaton’s home life in the fifties sounded as quaint as any sitcom representation of that era. Her father worked hard, was a tad distant from his children, and as a hobby studied belief systems revolving around the power positive thinking. As for Mama Dorothy Hall she competed in beauty pageants where “Mrs.” hung on the winner’s banner instead of “Miss.” When her kids got older she focused her attention on writing, photography, and making collages. She left her four children the legacy of multiple journals which accounted the family history as well as her ennui. Overall, the most curious dichotomy is that when Hall was at the age where she was all done with the primary tasks of motherhood; her daughter at the same age had just begun her motherhood journey.

Then Again is a quick read and as such I shouldn’t come down on it for what it isn’t, but alas I will. Although there were aspects I liked, it was not a satisfying book. Keaton straddles several issues but really doesn’t devote herself to examining any in detail except for the individual deaths of her parents which during this time of year when the cold and bleak are just outside our doors, is a huge bummer. (One can almost hear the sad lilt of an unidentifiable jazz number playing in the background.) Otherwise she gives the reader just enough info that one would like to know more but she then appears to graciously move onto another topic and you don’t want to say anything because, you know, she is Diane Keaton and wears distinctive looking hats in public.

I can’t accuse Then Again of presenting itself under false pretenses because the book flap was completely accurate. So what exactly do I (and by extension maybe you) want from a celebrity tell on? First and foremost I want good storytelling. People become famous because they have the following traits (sometimes more than just one) they are smart, beautiful, funny, talented, and/or happen to be at the right place at the right time. As someone the Gods and Goddesses have blessed with fame I want these “stars” to present stories that I as a non-famous person cannot tell.

Under the category of stories that I can’t tell is the genesis of when a person goes from being non famous to someone whom strangers note seeing in the supermarket. Fame seems to be a multiple edged sword. Once you are renowned it’s not as if you can suddenly be one of the masses again. Don’t feed the readers that fame hasn’t changed you because we know that is a lie. It’s like testifying winning the zillion dollar lottery hasn’t changed you.

As far as lovers and family, I think that can vary as to how much should be revealed. A memoirist try not to divulge too much baggage about living relatives, friends and lovers who are not famous. In reference to Then Again, I think Keaton treated her brother harsher than she needed especially compared to the treatment she gave her trio of famous lovers. She made only one reference to Allen’s fall from grace and that was a non-committal comment about his “custody issues.” Although these books can be therapeutic to the writer, I imagine they can have devastating consequences to those mentioned within the pages.

Lastly give readers something that they would not have known unless they read the book. This doesn’t have to be seedy (although seedy can have its place) just interesting. For instance Keaton is in a unique situation where she could explore the treatment of actresses who made movies in the seventies to the way they are treated now. Has Hollywood changed? Does she think that forty still the death sentence career wise for actresses? What was it like to make The Godfather? Granted Keaton touches a little upon all of the those topics, however it was frustrating that she wrote more about The Godfather: Part III than she did about The Godfather and The Godfather: Part II combined. Two of the before mentioned films are considered cinematic masterpieces while the other is the little brother who has one leg shorter than the other and suffers from asthma.

I don’t recommend Then Again unless you are jonesing to read about the deaths of a famous person’s mother and father. (Side note, have tissue handy.) I applaud Keaton’s effort to make her mother relevant but overall the book felt like one of the notebooks Dorothy Hall scribbled in – except, of course, it was published.

Happy reading!

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