Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Our Lady of the Forest runs in fits and starts.

This story of young girl who is having visions in the primeval forests of the Pacific Northwest is initially compelling, but then gets more tangled and confusing as it goes along. This is a complicated feat because the novel does not concentrate on an extraordinary amount of characters or themes, yet somehow you find yourself losing your way.

Anne, the "Joan of Arc" of the story, is a well drawn character who we are intensely interested in, despite Guterson's error of giving away most of Anne's tortured background right off. However, her friend, sceptic, and chief disciple is made out to be nothing more than a caricature of her own irony. There is no heart beating there, even though the author bestows her with heavy-handed secular motivations such as wanting to steal from the massive collections to fund her winter in the tropics.
Indeed, all of the characters aside from Anne and Tom Cross, (an unemployed logger who is mean to the core, but obviously searching for healing,) are just mouthpieces to state religious and philosophical questions that anybody with even a freshman Introduction to Philosophy or Theology class already knows. Within the first few pages we get stuff from Aquinas, Pascal's wager, etc. However, the book doesn't go on to illuminate these ideas or fulfill their arguments. Rather, we get long digressions that ultimately prove frustrating, not in their content, but in their context.

The community and the world in which Guterson has set his story is indeed fascinating, but perhaps the book is too short. I had a feeling that Guterson has too many things going on to be accomodated by the brief length. It seems as if the story ends too soon. The author conveys a deep passion for the area and some of the people, but unfortunately, not for the subject matter, and a result he loses not only his interest, but the readers as well.

There is poetic brilliance and exposition in the prose, but the dialogue just seems so contrived and leaden, especially in the beginning sections. As a playwright, I am around dramatic texts all of the time and I am witness to the struggles and pains that playwrights take towards getting dialogue right, because, basically it is all you have. I think it would serve some novelists well to try and write a play or two. Guterson included.

Thursday, February 12, 2004

Morley Safer Presents… Those Wacky Christians!
At first glance I was surprised that a major media outlet like CBS would want to spend this much time addressing the rise of Evangelical Christianity over the past few decades. However, only two paragraph into this article I saw the real direction of the piece. Yes, one has only to read two words to know where it is going: Left Behind.

Reverend Tim LaHaye, author the wildly popular series of Rapture books, (which spawned the wildly forgettable movie franchise of the same name.) is one of the authorities Morley Safer Turns to in the article.

”I don't think the media has really caught on to what's been going on in the last 30 years or so in America. An enormous number of people have come to faith in Christ and consider themselves evangelical Christians. And these are people that are buying, reading and distributing our books,” says Rev. Tim LaHaye.

What exactly has the media not caught on to, Mr. Lahaye? The quote seems to be saying, “You just don’t understand, a lot of people are paying money to read what I write.”

I guess I shouldn’t blame LaHaye, but, man, it is so easy to take the Rapture industry and make Christianity look just plain wacky. The message of the Evangelical Christian movement should not be that 40 Million people are paying money read about the Rapture. The message should be, look at how things have changed. People are helping each other. The rich are giving away their possessions. We are not warring. Illegitimate teen pregnancies are down. People are making sure that the poor or the shunned in our society are taken care of. But alas, they can’t point to that. It is frustrating that a movement which has changed so many people's lives for the good consistently marginalizes itself by trying to align itself with popular thinking.

The extreme Evangelical Right points to numbers, sales, church endowments, and voting statistics. Sadly, in doing so they look no better than an almost over-the-hill Hollywood producer who keeps saying, “the film was big in Japan.” Trying to justify Christianity by worldly standards is dangerous business, and ends up looking like a con.

Reverend Peter J. Gomes, (whom I have heard preach at Harvard many times,) is of course the most reasonable voice in this entire article. He gets the last word when he says, “Not everybody who thinks they know what's going to happen knows,” says Gomes. “So, I'm willing to take my chances, not with the evangelicals, but with the Lord. I'm going to place my hands in his.”


Friday, February 06, 2004

Kushner Trashes the First Lady and Beam Trashes Kushner
Poor Alex Beam. He can’t keep his own bigotry locked up for even as long as the length of his column. His article on Tony Kushner’s new work in progress, “Only We Who Guard the Mystery Shall Be Unhappy,” which is receiving a reading in Cambridge must have been just too much for him. He spends many paragraphs laying out what at first seems a somewhat credible discussion for dismissing Kushner’s work as a one sided political diatribe, but by the end of his writing he completely goes bonkers on his own argument. His last paragraph reads;

“I wish the Cambridge Forum and the ART much success in staging this wonderful work of hate. I am sure there are members of the Cambridge booboisie who will pay the top ticket price of $300 to finance more bile like this. I wish only that the sponsors wouldn't tout their production as "controversial." There is nothing controversial about pandering to an audience's bigotry and narrow-mindedness. A controversial play would place Ariel Sharon's late wife onstage with the souls of the dead Palestinian children her husband's armed forces have killed. But who would pay $300 to see that?”

Yadda. Yadda. Yadda. Mr. Beam, some of us read cultural criticism for enlightenment and for wisdom, not for the type of liberal-conservative polarizing you are doing here. I can buy a copy of Sean Hannity’s book if I want that. And also, Beam completely ignores the fact that Kushner would probably support a play that dealt with dead Palestinian children.

And by the way, who is bigoted, exactly? The Ariel Sharon example he uses would be just as horrible to some as Kushner’s current work-in progress is to him. However, to Alex it is only controversial if you agree with the premise. Mr. Beam is intelligent, witty, great to read, but also showing a neo-conservative bent. Just like the high priests of the conservative airways, he must protect the great god Reagan at all costs. Beam writes “Welcome to Kushnerworld -- Pulitzer Prize-winning ‘Angels in America’ Kushnerworld -- where heterosexuals are repressed homosexuals trapped in loveless relationships, gays are generally noble and capable of spiritual enlightenment, religion is soul-suffocating bunkum, and Republicans occupy a moral plane similar to that of the Nazis.” He completely dismisses the power and emotions of Angels in America, and the fact that it contained many dignified characters, who were not homosexuals. Beam takes a joke line from the play, (“You’re nice, I can’t believe you voted for Reagan,”) which is always performed with sarcasm, and he heaps all of this heavy ideology on it like a dutiful officer of the Thought Police. Somebody reading the column would think the line was an amazingly pivotal moment, written to be spoken with a teary-eyed deep sense of revelation.

One of the most disturbing aspects of the right wing crush on artists and entertainers since 9/11 has been the fact that their arguments have not so much been with content of the artists’ remarks or their work, but rather with their position in society. Examples: Natalie Maines is a ditzy blonde musician who should just shut up and sing. Michael Moore is fat slob who should shut his pie hole. Now, Beam chimes in that Kushner is a narrow minded little faggot who writes fag plays and has no right to assail the Bush or Reagan administration. In the Kennel of the Right Wing Republican Attack Dogs the only people with a right to speak on any political issue are the members of the current Republican administration and, of course, the dogs themselves.

Maybe in the world of Alex Beam only propaganda supporting the regime can be considered art. Perhaps the ART should have Toby Keith in for a confab. I am sure that Laura Ingraham, Alex Beam, Sean Hannity and Michael Savage would love to pay 300 a ticket to join a sing-a-long of, “Whiskey for my men, beer for my horses.” And after that, Mr. Beam could put on his play about Sharon.

I am just waiting for the day when these right wing attack dogs set loose on Saturday Night Live for their caricatures of Bush. Mark my words, it is coming.