How do you become ”the most hated man in America”? Documentarian, author, populist hero, and/or socialist scourge Michael Moore explains in this, his eighth nonfiction book but very first memoir. Moore has the ability to turn any speech into a jeremiad, any stage into a pulpit, and even an Oscar statuette into an instrument of blunt-force haranguing, which is why it’s surprising that Here Comes Trouble is relatively subdued. For the most part he has put away his sharpened carving knives of irony and sarcasm in telling his own story.
Divided into vignettes that are ordered in vague chronology, Trouble is no mission statement, just a collection of recollections of key moments that helped shape him. A few are early glimpses at the political gadfly he’d eventually become, including the time he won an Elks club speechwriting contest and — perhaps presaging his Oscar-night sucker-punch polemic — delivered an excoriating tirade against the organization’s segregationist policies. Passages like this, or when he was kicked out of the seminary for ”asking too many questions,” can occasionally feel a bit like mythmaking, as if Moore is penning his own superhero origins as the man who speaks truth to power, whatever the cost. But others, like a moving encomium to his mother, are so heartfelt and without ulterior motive that they could make his most vituperative detractor grudgingly admit that maybe he’s not Satan in disguise.
Even if the material isn’t overtly political, politics are threaded throughout. The 1967 Detroit riots, the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., the Vietnam War — all form the backdrop of Moore’s early life, and a chapter about his experience helping a close friend get an abortion doesn’t dissolve into policy-flogging as much as it tethers his beliefs to something personal. Sure, few of his haters will buy this book, but Moore has succeeded in making himself better heard by lowering his voice. B+