Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

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
End-of-summer entertainments to be found in books, on film; Ellsberg edits Dorothy Day

by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register

(From the Aug. 21, 2008 edition of the Inland Register)

Book Reviews

Prolific writer J.A. Jance, who splits her time between Arizona and Seattle, has just published a new novel of suspense, titled Damage Control. It is the latest in the Joanna Brady mysteries. This is the first of the series I have ever read. I found the mystery a gripping, fast-moving, well-plotted novel that was like a group of baseballs being juggled all at the same time.

Joanna Brady is the sheriff of Cochise County in southern Arizona. The story starts out with a young woman fearful for her life killing an intruder that turns out not to be the man she feared. Then we are with an older couple who seem to purposely drive their sedan off a mountain cliff to their deaths. Then we have the remains of young woman found in the desert after a flood. She somehow is connected with a group home in Tucson that may be acting in an unethical way.

Chapter 17 is the high point of the novel as we walk with Sheriff Brady through the crisis of one of her men being killed during the night in a crime scene he is guarding.

The dialogue throughout the novel seems natural and real. Jance fills her story with lots of relational family subplots within the sheriff’s extended family and her co-workers. She paints a sense of place. I would assume that those who have visited the Tucson area would find the novel particularly interesting. It is an ideal end-of-summer entertainment.

Damage Control is published by William Morrow in hardcover at $25.95.


My favorite book on saints is Robert Ellsberg’s wonderful All Saints: Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time. Ellsberg now has edited a massive new book out on Dorothy Day, titled The Duty of Delight: The Diaries of Dorothy Day. The book is published by Marquette University Press in hardcover at $42. The price might make this the kind of book you seek out at a public or college library.

It is well worth seeking out, however. Starting in 1934 up until her death, we have Dorothy’s reflection on her daily life. They can be very mundane. Often about family and her travels across this country through the years. She writes often of her spiritual practices. Her life in many ways doesn’t seem that different from ours, and yet she did some extraordinary things and deeply affected many people.

On Feb. 24, 1940, she spoke to the Holy Names Sisters in Portland, Ore. The next day she spoke at a little Methodist church in Portland’s Mt. Tabor neighborhood. She was probably the first Catholic to ever speak in their church. Some of the people left the Church when she began to speak, and some people were laughing and talking during her talk. It was a difficult time. She particularly enjoyed the daffodils, crocus, hepatica, and heather all out.

On March 3 she took the bus from Portland to Spokane. She was filled with awe on the trip through the mountains along the Columbia River. She writes of the wastelands and vast wheat country she travelled through. At 8 p.m. she arrived in Spokane and met with a priest from Pullman. Then she had dinner with the Sisters and went to bed. The next day she met with Bishop White and had a luncheon with social workers of the city. At 2 p.m. she met with Sisters from the various parochial schools. At 4:30 p.m. she met with a priest from Belgium and later had dinner with a Mrs. Nelson, who was a friend of the Sisters. The next day she travelled back to Portland and then on to San Francisco.

On June 4 of the same year she has the following notation: “Read The Labyrinthine Ways (also known as The Power and the Glory) by Graham Greene, one of the best books I’ve come across for a long time. It cuts like a knife into any complacency. I wept while I was reading it. A tremendous book, better than The Diary of a Country Priest (by Georges Bernanos), more human and yet closer to God.” (The July 21, 2008 issue of Newsweek magazine points out that books by Graham Greene have been favorites of one of this year’s presidential candidates.)

For anyone interested in Catholicism in America from the 1930s until 1980, The Duty of Delight is a treasure trove.

Movie Review

It has been a summer of movies based on action cartoons and films of violence. With two friends I admit to walking out after 20 minutes of unrelenting violence in the film Wanted. Robert Downey Jr. was excellent in his film Iron Man. I also admit to being a happy viewer of another Indiana Jones film.

Into the weekend of the new Batman sequel came the counter-programmed musical Mamma Mia! After Rogers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! in the early 1940s, American musicals tended to have the songs advance the story. Mamma Mia goes back to an earlier period where pretty much any catchy song was thrown in even if it had nothing to do with the story. ABBA songs from the ’70s have been thrown in on a creaky plot that originally was taken from the 1968 comedy Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell. The timelines don’t work because of a 20-year-old getting married in present time who was theoretically born back in the late ’60s.

In the end, this film is more about the older parents and friends of the bride (Amanda Seyfried). Mom is played by the great actress Meryl Streep, who evidently wanted to play an over-the-top role. Her women friends from long ago are played by Christine Baranski and Julie Walters. The possible fathers of the bride are played by Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, and Stellan Skarsgard.

The songs of the pop group ABBA are certainly toe-tapping. If you kind of ignore the plot and just go with the music, which doesn’t really fit the story, anyway you may find this an enjoyable confection in a summer of dark comic-book heroes and violence.

The Motion Picture Association of America rates Mamma Mia! PG-13: Parents are strongly cautioned as some material may be inappropriate for children under 13. The United States Catholic Bishops’ Office of Film and Broadcasting rates the film L-Limited adult audience films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling.

DVD Review

Reviews last winter of Frank Langella’s portrayal of aging novelist Leonard Schiller in the film Starting Out in the Evening were almost lyrical. To my knowledge the film never played in Spokane. So I was happy to get my hands on the DVD recently. Maybe I expected too much.

The film, directed by Andrew Wagner, takes place in Manhattan. It is a film about creativity, aging, and taking risks in life.

A graduate student from Brown seeks to do a Master’s paper on the less-than-famous novelist Leonard Schiller. She even believes she can get it published in a literary magazine, which might lead to Leonard’s out-of-print novels being published again. The student is Heather Wolfe (Lauren Ambrose), in her early 20s. Eventually, the novelist agrees to be interviewed. A subplot involves Leonard’s 40-year-old daughter Ariel (Lili Taylor) wanting to have a child before her biological clock runs out.

The movie is a slow-moving character study in the tradition of some older films of the ’30s and ’40s. Why has Leonard taken such a long time to complete his novel of the last 10 years or so? Heather starts out as a fan of the early works of Leonard. She slowly comes to the realization that for her, his later work lacks passion. What happened in his personal life that changed his style?

Starting Out in the Evening is for someone who enjoys fine acting that is fairly low-key. Frank Langella does a great deal with his wistful eyes and thoughtful pauses. Can he come alive and be true to his principles? Both Ambrose and Taylor play their roles thoughtfully. In one sense, not too much happens in the film. In another sense, lives are renewed and awakened.

The film is for older teens and adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rates the film PG-13. It has been neither reviewed nor rated by the U.S. bishops’ Office for Film and Broadcasting.

(Father Caswell is archivist and Ecumenical Relations Officer for the Diocese of Spokane, and a frequent contributor to this publication.)

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