Henri Bensussen serves on the board of the Mendocino Coast Writers Conference and manages their blog, has a B.A. in Biology from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and is an active member of Audubon and the Mendocino Coast Writers branch of the California Writers Club. She has published poems and prose in a variety of journals; a chapbook of poems, Earning Colors, was published by Finishing Line Press in early 2015.
“Ricki and the Flash” www.rickiandtheflashmovie.com is the latest film that has struck me with its raw emotion. It’s another simple story about mothers and their children. As writers know, a simple story about mothers takes a whole lifetime to process.
Fairy tales are rife with mothers who die or otherwise disappear, and the evil step-mothers who replace them, who turn the step-daughters into princesses by making their lives so miserable they’ll marry any prince who shows up.
In “Ricki,” Meryl Streep plays the disappearing mother (she must follow her muse, that is, become a singer in a country/rock band). In this story, Dad’s wife replacement is a kind step-mother who does everything a real mother would do, and does it better. All ends happily for the kids, the message being, it takes two moms and a kind dad to raise three children and keep them from committing suicide when they too, as adults, have to face divorce and other life-changing fates.
There are many twists to the family story that fiction writers can pursue by drawing on their own experiences or that of their friends. Writers can use story as a way to solve the mystery of why Dad took to drink or Mom to daily Bridge games, to fantasize what went on in the parental bedroom, to figure out why they themselves are twisted into knots. Fairy tales can be a primal source of plot twists, or untwists, depending on where the writer is headed.
“Ricki,” like most fairy tales, ends happily with a prince and princess wedding. In darker tales, an anti-hero provides drama and gore. Cutting-edge fiction, these days, often ends without a tidy resolution, just like in real life. The ogre, even when kissed by a long-suffering heroine, may continue digging and filling graves, but any dead bodies found in the cellar may actually be metaphors.
Here’s critic James Wood, in his review of Primo Levi (NewYorker, 9/28/15), describing a “true writer: someone equipped with an avaricious and indexical memory” (sort’ve scary, when you think about it) “who knows how to animate details, stage scenes, and ration anecdotes.”
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