From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Media Watch: In bookstores: ‘The Emperor of Ocean Park’; at the movies: ‘Barbershop’

by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register

(From the Oct. 24, 2002 edition of the Inland Register)

Several years ago I read Stephen L. Carter’s ground-breaking non-fiction work The Culture of Disbelief: How American Law and Politics Trivialize Religious Devotion. I enjoyed his reflection on American society and culture very much. This year Carter has published his first work of fiction, titled The Emperor of Ocean Park (Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2002, hardcover, $26.95).

For a first novel with a mystery-thriller foundation, Stephen Carter has written a wonderfully readable book that combines Grisham, Turrow, and more than a little Hitchcock.

Out of his African-American legal background Carter gives us a look at the upper-class Blacks in the professions who spend part of the summer each year in a familiar Black section of Martha’s Vineyard.

The story of The Emperor of Ocean Park is told entirely through the eyes of Carter’s alter-ego, Talcott Garland. His father, Judge Oliver Garland, the “emperor” of the title, has recently died. Oliver was nominated to the Supreme Court but had to step back after a law clerk connected him to one of the princes of the Underworld.

The Judge, between his lack of confirmation to the Supreme Court and his somewhat mysterious, death becomes a very conservative speaker to groups throughout the United States. We learn also that he becomes very bitter over what has happened.

The mystery is told through major sections that refer to the moves made in chess. At the beginning of the novel Carter tells us that the chess piece Americans call the bishop, in French is called “le fou,” or in English translation, “the fool.”

The twists and turns of the novel bring us deeply into the Garland family, made up of two sisters and two brothers. One of the sisters, a daughter of the judge, has died in a mysterious car accident.

So Talcott, also known by his family as Misha, is given a series of clues to help him find out what the “special arrangements” his father, the judge, wants him to know.

Along the way he is pulled to Washington D.C. and Martha’s Vineyard and back to his law school campus in New England. We learn that his wife, also a lawyer, by the name of Kimmer, is on the short list for a major federal judgeship. Talcott loves his wife dearly, but believes she is having an affair with one of her law partners. Talcott and Kimmer both dearly love their three-year-old child, Bentley.

As Talcott keeps following clues, his wife, friends and colleagues begin to think he is acting very strangely and may be entering into mental illness. The last 200 pages will pull you so deeply into the intriguing plot you will want to keep reading no matter the hour.

Talcott is not a particularly sympathetic character. But somehow you begin to like him, although he is full of human faults.

Stephen Carter gives his viewpoints throughout the book, from separation of church and state to vouchers for public schools. Above all he gives us a real eyewitness view into “the people of the darker nation,” as he refers to them. It is basically a “Gold Coast” subgroup of American blacks, but Carter gives fascinating insights into a world many of us do not know.

Stephen Carter’s view’s don’t fit neatly into a box. He surprises you again and again.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Emperor of Ocean Park. With its twists and turns that continually astonish, it is a mystery lover’s dream. I don’t know how a Yale Law School professor has spare time to write such a wonderful book, but he certainly has pulled it off.


Movie Review

In September an African-American film by the name of Barbershop was the number-one film at the box office for two straight weeks. I saw the film recently and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Barbershop is an old-fashioned film in the tradition of Frank Capra’s films of the 1940s. It is about seeing our lives for the good in them. It’s about how a haircut well cut is a gift that in some cases can help change a person’s life. Barbershop, in a very humorous way, tells us that being in community with others, faults and all, is the way to live a full life.

Calvin Palmer (Ice Cube) runs the barbershop his father left him in a Black neighborhood in Chicago. Calvin thinks his life is passing him by as he does rather menial work that isn’t very exciting.

Fairly early in the film he makes arrangements to sell his shop to a loan shark by the name of Lester (Keith David). But as the day goes by and he sees with new eyes all the realities that are taking place in his father’s bequest to him, Calvin changes his mind.

The fascinating anchor of the movie is the interplay of people of different viewpoints in the barbershop. The panoply of diverse haircutters is incredible. Dinka (Earl Howze) is a West African poet who speaks exquisite English and feels with his whole being. Ricky (Michael Early) is the ex-con who seems to be in trouble with the law. Jimmy (Sean Patrick Thomas) plays a college student with a judgmental arrogant side that puts his colleagues off. Terri (Eve) is the strong woman in a male world who doesn’t want anyone drinking any of the fruit juice that she has purchased and placed in the community refrigerator. Isaac (Troy Garity) is the white youth who wants to be all things Black and in the end, we find out he is a very good barber, too. The liveliest character is the oldest, Eddie (Cedric the Entertainer), who goes back to Calvin’s father. Eddie is the character who has called some controversy over his riffs on Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King. He is an extraordinary barber who never seems to cut hair but he gives the sense of history although his version sometimes knocks down our icons. The other barbers give him a rough time for his unorthodox views.

There is a subplot about two guys stealing an ATM machine. It is hilarious.

However, Barbershop is about how we seek to live lives that mean something. It says we have got to do it in a community of some sort, where some of the people are going to drive us up a tree.

Do you want to see a delightful movie that is in the tradition of My Big Fat Greek Wedding? Then Barbershop is just the movie for you.

There are lovable characters who are very human. The acting is very good. Ice Cube is right on target as Calvin. The important supporting cast is perfect.

I know nothing about Rap music. All I can say is that some excellent actors are now coming from that tradition.

Barbershop may not win lots of awards for breakthrough cinema. The audience appreciation award is its claim to fame. Today that’s not an easy task for a film that is, in the best sense of the word, a sweet movie.

Barbershop is rated PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned). Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13 because of language, sexual content and brief drug references. The U.S. bishops’ Office for Film and Broadcasting rated Barbershop A-III – for adults.

(Father Caswell is pastor of St. Rose of Lima Parish, Cheney, and is Ecumenical Relations Officer for the Diocese of Spokane. His reviews also appear in the Cheney Free Press.)

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