Sarah Polley’s documentary about her mother Diane, Stories We Tell, is driven by a conundrum: “How is it we talk and talk without conveying somehow what we’re really like?” Charlotte Hornsby riffs on it:
As people trail off about what her mother hid, what her mother thought and craved and feared, Sarah reflects that we can’t resurrect someone through our stories of them. In saying “she was like this” we risk turning her into a fiction, and feed the lie that Diane or any of us are a recipe of traits that if mixed in the proper order will rise and cool into a consistent personality. Given the gaps between stories, the discrepancies between the Diane her sister knew and the Diane her DNA-dad knew, Sarah wonders if any of us are truly knowable.
This is the loneliest question. I know I’ve asked it before and I’ve certainly seen it echoed by some of my favorite writers. In his play “The Cocktail Party”, T.S. Eliot’s Celia confides to her doctor, “It isn’t that I want to be alone, but that everyone’s alone—or so it seems to me. They make noises and think they are talking to each other; they make faces and think they understand each other. And I’m sure that they don’t. Is that a delusion?” “Being close,” Nicole Krauss writes, “as close as you can get to another person only makes clear that impassable distance between you.”