“What follows are some of the most dangerous stories of my life: the ones I have avoided, the ones I haven’t told, the ones that have kept me awake on countless nights. These are the stories that have haunted and directed me, unwittingly, down circuitous paths,” (Polley 3).
Screenwriter, director, and actor Sarah Polley encounters her trauma in this memoir. Polley runs towards the danger in an honest and thoughtful way in her debut book of essays. From dangerous movie sets to scoliosis and battling grief and mental illness, a difficult pregnancy, recounting a famous Canadian sexual assault case, and trauma from a concussion.
I never watched Road to Avonlea, or anything really with Sarah Polley in it. I found our about her through (obscurely) an episode of Charmed which ended with Polley singing a cover of The Tragically Hip’s “Courage” which she performed for the soundtrack of her film The Sweet Hereafter. That, of course, led me to learning she’s Canadian, a child actress most-known for Road to Avonlea who at one point was rumoured to be directing an adaption of John Green’s Looking for Alaska into film before she again reached acclaim directing the mini-series Alias Grace based on the novel by Margaret Atwood. I also have vague memories of the movie Splice, which I never saw but knew she was in and saw enough trailers for, and now she’s an Oscar-winning screenwriter for her film Women Talking. It’s been interesting seeing her career develop and her name become known outside of Canada, and to get a chance to read about her life from her own words.
Polley is an excellent writer, and Run Towards the Danger covers a variety of moments from her life with one clear message: we must run towards the difficult moments in our lives in order to heal from and understand them, which is exactly what Polley does here. Her admittance to being a victim of Jian Gomeshi when she was sixteen and he twenty-eight and not taking the stand with other women was an intimate look at why so many women don’t come forward after being assaulted. It was shocking to learn from Polley’s discussions with lawyers and those working with the Crown that nearly all of them admit they would tell women in their lives that have been assaulted not to come forward because the justice system doesn’t have their side. I also enjoyed her essay on her first pregnancy, which was high risk, and her fears of being a mother after her mother had died. Her essay on PEI was also fun and filled with closure, I went to PEI for the first-time last summer so a lot of the descriptions put me right back on the island. The titular essay was also eye-opening and written with great care as Polley writes about getting treatment in the States for her concussion while also praising the Canadian healthcare system. I also enjoyed Polley’s insights as a child actor as she attempted to advocate for another Canadian child actor and was let down by the union, and her own warnings to show parents about pushing their children into acting.
I will say I had trouble sympathizing and understanding her at some points. While I know that following the death of her mother, living on her own, being diagnosed with scoliosis and performing as the lead in the Stratford Festival’s Through the Looking Glass are all stressful things, I couldn’t help but be angry at how she screwed over her fellow cast and crew members so that the production didn’t end up moving to the Winter Garden Theatre in Toronto. The cast and crew lost out on wages, and while Polley admits she donated her $500 winnings for Best Actress to a crew member who was expecting the winter wage to buy her new daughter a carpet, it was still an unprofessional thing to do. I also thought it was bizarre that on her first/second date with her now husband she told him she wasn’t interested in a relationship or romance, just having a baby and how he agreed to those conditions and they became pregnant within a few short months of knowing each other (though Polley later, sadly, miscarried). This developed into love, which is great for the two of them, but so incredibly strange. But I know enough theatre/film people in my own life to know they have their eccentricities, so I’ll blame it on that.
Run Towards the Danger is an excellent memoir and book of essays. Polley has a wonderful voice and I look forward to watching more of her films and series and hope she has another book in store for us!
Publication: March 1 2022
Publisher: Penguin Press
Pages: 272 pages (Hardcover)
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir, Biography, Essays, Canadian
My Rating: ⛤⛤⛤⛤
Oscar-nominated screenwriter, director, and actor Sarah Polley’s Run Towards the Danger explores memory and the dialogue between her past and her present
These are the most dangerous stories of my life. The ones I have avoided, the ones I haven’t told, the ones that have kept me awake on countless nights. As these stories found echoes in my adult life, and then went another, better way than they did in childhood, they became lighter and easier to carry.
Sarah Polley’s work as an actor, screenwriter, and director is celebrated for its honesty, complexity, and deep humanity. She brings all those qualities, along with her exquisite storytelling chops, to these six essays. Each one captures a piece of Polley’s life as she remembers it, while at the same time examining the fallibility of memory, the mutability of reality in the mind, and the possibility of experiencing the past anew, as the person she is now but was not then. As Polley writes, the past and present are in a “reciprocal pressure dance.”
Polley contemplates stories from her own life ranging from stage fright to high-risk childbirth to endangerment and more. After struggling with the aftermath of a concussion, Polley met a specialist who gave her wholly new advice: to recover from a traumatic injury, she had to retrain her mind to strength by charging towards the very activities that triggered her symptoms. With riveting clarity, she shows the power of applying that same advice to other areas of her life in order to find a path forward, a way through. Rather than live in a protective crouch, she had to run towards the danger.
In this extraordinary book, Polley explores what it is to live in one’s body, in a constant state of becoming, learning, and changing.