If you haven't gotten around to reading that one famous piece of literature, or you're one of a million people who haven't seen that epic movie everyone's talking about, Roemer McPhee's got you covered.
In his broad collection of short essays entitled Boomer's Guide to Story, McPhee delves into 300 novels, plays, short stories, and screenplays. He doesn't merely summarize these stories and films, but digs deep into the underlying message of each story, and elaborates on how the authors and directors behind the magic best convey what it means to be human.
McPhee's essays are especially applicable to the baby boomer generation, with tons of insight on novels and movies from as early as the mid to late 1970's. Anyone who picks up this book however, will know at least a handful, as recent films like No Country For Old Men and There Will Be Blood are also expounded upon at great length.
With Boomer's Guide to Story, the essays become less about knowing the story and more about what can be learned from it. Too often the reader will find themselves underlining great passages from Shakespeare and Mark Twain casually interspersed throughout the essays, further cementing our understanding of them.
In one essay about Oakley Hall's novel on downhill ski racing, Downhill Racer, McPhee discusses the perseverance behind winning such a notorious Olympic event.
“Oakely Hall reminds us of the timeless truth that the people who win (at anything) are those who are unafraid to lose. Only such a mindset allows an unrestrained, imaginative, bold run at success.”
You don't have to have read Downhill Racer to understand the painstaking and sometimes tortuous effort downhill ski racers subject themselves to, which is how McPhee's collection can resonate with readers of all ages. Everyone knows what it's like to go for the gold, and with each story McPhee spells out the take-home message in a way that sticks with you long after you've put the book down.
Perhaps that's what makes this compilation so fascinating. Behind every story is a message that may or may not have been clear to you at the time you experienced the book or film, and pertain to real life experience. In his short essay on Blow for instance, McPhee quotes Rudyard Kipling in a passage that reminds us all too well of how quickly things can go from charming to tedious, and our often brash reactions to them.
"If you can meet with prosperity and loss, and treat those two impostors just the same."
In his Guide to Story, McPhee provides readers and movie-goers with sharp perspectives that are both welcome and refreshing.