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
Illustrated books celebrate the gift that is a child; ‘Changeling’ features powerful performances

by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register

(From the Dec. 4, 2008 edition of the Inland Register)

Book Reviews

In the September 2008 issue of U.S Catholic I ran into an interview article centering on the American Catholic novelist Ann Patchett. I was not familiar with her work, but I was eventually able to get a copy of her 2007 novel Run. The book is published in hardcover by HarperCollins at $25.95.

I thoroughly enjoyed her wonderful story of the Doyle family of Boston. In clear, unadorned language, Patchett draws us into a story of contemporary family life which is filled with secrets and surprises. At times, Run reads like a mystery with numerous twists and turns. And yet it is a beautiful story of family love and responsibility.

The story starts years ago with the death of Bernadette Doyle. Her husband, Bernard, is in discussion with his relatives over a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary that has the face of his deceased wife. It normally would pass to the next generation through one of the daughters. Bernard, however, has three sons. The two younger sons are adopted African-Americans. Bernard tells his relatives that the stature will stay with his sons. We hear the interesting Irish story of how the statue came to have the face of the beloved Bernadette.

The novel then centers on a 24-hour period in a very wintery Boston, where Bernard has scheduled a meeting with his two younger sons, now in their early 20s, at a talk by Jesse Jackson at the Kennedy School of Government on the Harvard campus. The sons, Tip and Teddy, really are not very enthusiastic about being with their Dad at this speech. Tip would rather be doing research at the nearby Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology. Teddy would rather be visiting his uncle, a retired priest, in a nearby care center. As they leave the Kennedy school with Dad, himself a retired mayor of Boston, Tip in his effort to get away rapidly backs into an oncoming car. An African-American woman walking behind them sees what is happening and rushes to push Tip to safety and finds herself thrown up on the hood and windshield of the car. The woman, named Tennessee, ends up on the snow severely injured, with her nine-year old daughter, Kenya, who is trying to help her. Soon the Doyle family is doing everything to get immediate medical help for Tennessee as well as Tip, whose ankle had been run over. Thus begins the foundation for a story that carries the reader on a wild ride that won’t stop until the final page.

Patchett fills her story with Catholic themes. Teddy has memorized sections from famous speeches and stories. He looks out over the snowy city of Boston and recites the beautiful ending words of James Joyce’s short story “The Dead”: “Yes, the newspaper was right: snow was falling general all over Ireland, it was falling on every part of the dark plain, on the trees, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and further westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves.”

Run is a powerful story of love, sacrifice, and redemption.

Movie Review

Someone recently reported that the story for Clint Eastwood’s new film, Changeling, came from the case found recently when the L.A. Police Department was throwing away old files. The Walter Collins case of 1928 provides Eastwood with the basis for a period film that is lovingly photographed and a story that is impressively told.

I admit that many early reviews have been cold to Changeling, but I found it one of the better films of the year. Angelina Jolie as Christine Collins gives a fine performance as a mother seeking her lost son. The supporting cast of many character actors is extraordinary, although I will admit the scenes where Christine is imprisoned in a psychological hospital are a bit over the top. It is as if she had entered a world of pure evil.

Christine comes home one day from her work as a supervisor at the phone company to find that her 9-year-old son, Walter, is gone. She calls the police. They refuse to come for 24 hours, claiming he will show up. Christine has to fight every inch of the way to get the police to respond. Eventually they produce a boy from Illinois they claim is Walter. Even as he gets off the train, Christine explains that this boy is not her son. She is conned into taking him home, and photos are taken of the police solving the case. At home, Christine discovers that the young man is 3 inches shorter than her son and accidently finds out that he is circumcised, while Walter was not.

The plot thickens as she receives help from a Presbyterian radio preacher (John Malkovich) who is campaigning against the dishonest tactics of the LAPD. But suddenly Christine is sent to a mental institution by the police to get her out of their hair. As all of this happens, Detective Lester Ybarra (Michael Kelly) gets a lead from a child that results in an investigation of what become the Wineville Chicken Murders. The story continues as Christine is finally released from the mental institution and the movie follows what happened on a farm in Wineville. The film ends with a vivid coda on the death by hanging of the man convicted of the Wineville murders.

The acting in this film is powerful. Jeffrey Donovan as the crooked Captain Jones, who just wants to get rid of Christine, is top notch. Amy Ryan as a prostitute held wrongly in the mental institution is terrific. Michael Kelly as the sleuth who breaks open the case is a stand out.

The production values of Changeling are wonderful. You really get a feel for the period from 1928-1935. The handkerchief Christine uses in 1935 looks just like one my sister Patricia saved from our mother’s things, after Mom died 10 years ago.

If you long for a good and powerful dramatic film, please add Eastwood’s Changeling to your list.

The Motion Picture Association of America rates Changeling R-Restricted – under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian. There is some violent and disturbing content as well as harsh language. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Office for Film and Broadcasting rates the film A-III – for adults.

Recently Received

• Portland author Nancy Tillman recently sent two of her beautifully-illustrated large-size children’s books. The first, published in 2006 by Feiwel & Friends of New York, is titled On The Night You Were Born (hardcover, $16.95).

With haunting illustrations of polar bears, geese, and ladybugs, the author describes the wonder of birth and how each child is a special gift to his or her family.

The second book, just published last month by the same publisher and at the same price, is illustrated wonderfully by Nancy Tilman and written by Eric Metaxas. The title of the new book is It’s Time to Sleep, My Love. The title pretty much says it all. But the illustrations seern even more powerful than the first book. The double-page painting of a sleeping tiger with her cub is incredibly beautiful.

Also available is an audio CD of an actor reading the text, with background music by Sally Taylor, the daughter of singer-songwriters Carly Simon and James Taylor. That sells for $14.95.

• The Inland Register recently received a copy of the 1995 book They Called Her the Baroness: The Life of Catherine de Hueck Doherty, published by Alba House for $19.95. The book is written by Lorene Hanley Duquin.

Catherine de Hueck Doherty is a contemporary of Dorothy Day. She founded Friendship Houses in the United States that reached out to the poor and fought for racial justice. She traveled to Germany and Poland at the start of World War II to see for herself what was happening there. That chapter reads like a spy novel.

Returning to the United States, she eventually marries Eddie Doherty, a famous newspaper reporter from Chicago. Her main center of operation eventually becomes Combermere, Ontario, Canada. The continued expansion of her houses of prayer and service become known as Madonna Houses, which continue down to our own day. She popularized contemplative prayer and the idea of poustinias as places of prayer.

On page 230 the author speaks of Catherine and Eddie loading clothes, books and furniture in to a new black car called a Keyser. My guess is that in 1947 it was a Kaiser.

Catherine de Hueck Doherty is a fascinating lay woman who changed many a life during her time, and beyond. They Called Her the Baroness gives us a view of her strengths and weaknesses across the turbulent years of the 20th century.

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

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