Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington



From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 1453, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302


Media Watch
A look at Harper Lee’s long-rumored (and long-awaited) ‘Mockingbird’ sequel

by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register

(From the October 15, 2015 edition of the Inland Register)

Book Reviews

Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird is a favorite book of mine, as is the classic film version, with Atticus Finch in the 1930s Deep South.

When I heard that Harper Lee’s original manuscript set in the 1950s was being published under the title Go Set a Watchman, I was surprised and pleased until I heard Atticus was portrayed as a racist. Do I really want to read this book?

The answer is yes. Now Jean Louise, known as Scout, is 26 years old, returning to Maycomb, Ala., from living in New York City. Her Dad is up in years and near retiring from his law firm. She now sees her father from an adult point of view, in contrast to seeing him from a child’s point of view in Mockingbird.

Atticus does belong to the White Citizens Council, as does Hank, the young man who is assisting Atticus at the law office. Hank is also in love with Jean Louise.

The eventual verbal confrontation between father and daughter over racism is memorable. For me, learning of Atticus’s wounded side doesn’t take away from his heroic side in Mockingbird. Many a son or daughter somewhere along the line must come to grips with the realization that his or her parents are less than perfect.

The book has several flashbacks to Jean Louise at age 12 or so. In one story she is misinformed about issues of sex education by some of the older girls. She speaks to no one. Thinking she is pregnant because a boy came along and dramatically kissed her, she climbs the water tower and contemplates jumping. She is saved by Hank, who takes her home to Calpurnia, the African American maid with whom she finally talks and from whom she receives correct information.

In another story she wears “falsies” to her first dance and they wander all over her dress. Again, Hank, a few years older, asks Jean Louise to get rid of them. Hank accidentally throws them on the World War I Memorial. Later, the strict principal wants to know who did this dastardly deed. The conclusion of this story is pure joy.

Go Set a Watchman is no classic, but it is well worth reading.

The novel is published in hardcover by HarperCollins for a list price of $27.99.

*****

Ta-Nehisi Coates, the national correspondent for The Atlantic, has written a powerful cri de coeur in his new book, Between the World and Me. The book is a letter, from deep within his own life experiences, to his college-age son.

How does an African-American father nurture and protect his son in the America of today?

Coates goes into American history, particularly slavery and the Civil War. He centers his story on the relationship of young Blacks and the police. He emphasizes his narrative on Prince Carmen Jones, who had the benefits of the American dream and yet lost his life with one police confrontation.

You may disagree with some of Coates’s arguments and vision, but he needs to be heard, as those who have not had his experiences try to understand.

The American section of the book is presented with stark realism, and the visit for some time to Paris is presented, with minor exception, in a romantic, idealistic vision.

I found the book very challenging. It brought back memories of my Dad in Seattle working in the men’s department of J.C. Penney’s after World War II. I was around six and I do remember going in a car to an African-American’s home to drop off I think a loan of $100 to help him buy an automobile.

Our sophomore class at St. Patrick High School in Walla Walla helped an African-American family paint and fix up their home as a class project with Sister Paula.

I admit memories of so long ago may not be perfectly accurate. And maybe these efforts were paternalistic; I don’t know. But there were small attempts to do something about the damages of slavery and segregation.

Ta-Nehisi Coates is a fine writer and a caring father. The publisher is Spiegel & Grau of New York. The list price in hardcover is $24.

Movie reviews

Most serious war films are also anti-war films. To portray the suffering and death of the young in war in any sort of realistic way leads to the obvious question: “Why do we do this?”

On this 100th anniversary of World War I, the richly photographed and moving film Testament of Youth brings history alive. The film is based on the memoir of Vera Britain, a famed British feminist and antiwar figure at the time of the Great War. Vera is played powerfully by the young Swedish actress Alicia Vikander.

The story, directed by Jane Kent, has overtones of Masterpiece Theatre, but goes much deeper.

Early in the film, Vera and three young men walk along a trail in the English countryside. One of the young men is Vera’s 18-year-old brother, and another is Roland Leighton (Kit Harington). As the story and the war progresses Roland and Vera are scheduled to be married when he is home on leave.

Vera has fought hard to get into Oxford, but the War leads to her volunteering as a nurse. First she is in England, and then near the front lines in France. It is in France that the movie becomes heart-wrenching.

For a time Vera is forced to take care of the injured Germans, referred to as Huns. It is this section of the film where the anti-war reality really comes home.

Both of the principal actors are excellent and will become stars. Testament of Youth at times is a difficult movie to watch, but well worth the effort.

The Motion Picture Association of America rates the film PG-13 for violence. Catholic News Service has not rated the film yet.

*****

Throughout 40 years or more, Woody Allen has given us one film a year. Some have been masterpieces, like Crimes and Misdemeanors; others were memorable, like Midnight in Paris. He has also given us some real clunkers.

His new film, Irrational Man, is a clunker. I found it hard to watch.

Abe Lucas (Joaquin Phoenix) is a new instructor in philosophy at a small Rhode Island liberal arts college. He is drinking heavily and depressed. His teaching sees the darkest side of modern philosophers.

Jill Pollard (Emma Stone), one of his students, is attracted to him, even though she has a fine boyfriend. The film seems to glide over rules of recent years on the dangers of a professor-student romantic relationship.

Meanwhile, Abe begins an affair with a married colleague (Parker Posey) who has dreams of going off to Spain with her romantic knight. While having lunch with Jill, Abe and she overhear a woman probably losing her children in a divorce because of a judge she believes is corrupt.

The film shifts to a very uncomfortable murder which has the themes of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, themes Woody Allen covered very well long ago. The result is derivative, unconvincing and a sad failure of a film.

The Motion Picture Association of America rates the film R – Restricted (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian). There are strong language, sexual situations, and violence. Catholic News Service has not yet rated the film.

Magazine Notes

The New Yorker for Sept. 14, 2015 has an interesting eight-page article called “Holy Orders” by Alexander Stille, on Popes Benedict and Francis. “The Letter from the Vatican” tells of both popes working to reform the Curia.

(Father Caswell is Inland Register archivist.


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