Archives for July 2008

Dear Fellowship of Southern Writers,

I would totally pay money for a print of this photo. Thank you.

Mr. Godsbody (aka Mr. November)

Baby Steps

Joan-of-Arc McCain does her popular “drunken sailor” routine. Or is it “Baby Frankenstein”?

Darkest line from Dark Knight.

“Sometimes, the truth isn’t good enough. Sometimes, people deserve to have their faith rewarded.”
– Jim Gordon

The obvious implication being, the truth will not reward your faith. What you believe is a lie.

Six quirks.

Karen tagged me. Here are the rules:

6 Rules:
1. Link the person(s) who tagged you
2. Mention the rules on your blog
3. Tell about 6 unspectacular quirks of yours
4. Tag 6 fellow bloggers by linking them
5. Leave a comment on each of the tagged blogger’s blogs letting them know they’ve been tagged
6. Wait and see how far it spreads.

1. I “smoke” my pen cap. I started in college, in order to keep from taking up smoking, which was rather popular among my friends and acquaintances.

2. Sometimes when I’m concentrating, I stick the tip of my tongue out the side of my mouth – just like Charlie Brown used to do when he wrote his Pen Pal!

3. I pitch fiction projects and write for a newspaper, in spite of the obvious futility of both pursuits.

4. I am, despite all evidence to the contrary, ridiculously vain about eyewear, and get the itch to buy new frames about every two years.

5. I love Open Houses.

6. Despite all my efforts to quit, I continue to blog.

I’ll tag the first six poor souls who read this and have blogs themselves.

What Color is Your Anxiety? Bright Orange.

With apologies to T.S. Eliot, it should read:

“I will show you fear in a handful of Cheetos.”

KSRK: Exiles

The folks at Inside Catholic did such a superb job of presenting their discussion of Ron Hansen’s Exiles that I find myself at a loss for what I could add that would be of much value. Matthew Lickona, Amy Welborn, Bishop Daniel Flores and Joseph O’Brien squeezed a heck of a lot of good juice out of the book–and I’m not saying there’s not plenty more we could wring out of it–but maybe it’s enough to just head on over there and pay some close attention to their fine work.

I like the concentric circles of cooperative literary workmanship going on here: Hopkins working on the nuns’ tale; Hansen joining him in the effort while also working out the parallels with Hopkins’ own life’s saga; Lickona & Co. digging in to bring them all further out into the light. It reminds me of the communion of saints and how we are all fellow workers in the vineyard across time.

Well, OK, I’ll try to squish a couple of grapes and do my part.

I laid the book down a week or two ago and haven’t cracked it open since and now I’m sitting in the dark on our back patio typing this on a wireless laptop, smoking a cigar, drinking a glass of wine, our new puppy, Noam, lying at my feet chomping (pun intended) on something, probably one of Tink’s favorite toys. The book is resting on the table nearby but if I want to consult it I’ll have to either get a flashlight or jump around in front of the motion-detecting light above our garage, neither of which is beneath my dignity but I also have an ice pack on my knee because I went for a run about an hour ago and it started to hurt at about mile three. (The puppy just scurried off into the darkness beyond the garage as if in pursuit of a varmint of some kind, hopefully not a skunk.) So I’ll just wing it without reference to the text, like they do in many of the graduate seminars I’ve ever attended.

First of all, I’d like to say that ….

[We interrupt this blog entry to go to the grocery store, which I just remembered I promised Mrs. McCain I’d do, to get some milk, baby formula, and bananas. Sorry for the inconvenience. To be continued.]

How to Install a Toilet Paper Roll



Teeth Marks II

From Pajiba’s review of Teeth:

“It’s not that mixing genres is inherently bad, it’s that Lichtenstein seems to be mashing them up simply because he doesn’t know quite what else to do. Dawn’s first ‘attack’ scene is a horror show mined for dark comedy, and the next image is of a dazed and confused Dawn wearing her ‘Warning: Sex Changes Everything’ T-shirt. Had Lichtenstein played the visual gag down, or at least given it more than 15 seconds to come up, it would have come across as the kind of satirical irony he seems to take it for, and not the head-slapping moment of cuteness that it actually is. Lichtenstein’s haphazard shifts from one genre to the next, instead of making the film feel unclassifiable, actually wind up harming the central narrative and robbing it of some of its weight.”

Is that a smart way of saying that Teeth bites off more than it can chew?

Teeth Marks I

Got an email from the California Lawyer yesterday, in which he recounted stumbling across Teeth in Ye Olde Video Shoppe. He didn’t rent it, but he also couldn’t believe I hadn’t written about it.

Actually, I had – but for another blog, and the other blog ended up never running the posts. So now they’ve ended up on the ash-heap of Godsbody. The language gets a little blue. Reader discretion is advised.

Teeth (now in theaters!) tells the story of a Dawn, a high-school beauty who “works hard at suppressing her budding sexuality by being the local chastity group’s most active participant.” But when she becomes the victim of a sexual assault, she “discovers that she has a toothed vagina.” That’s right, she’s “a living example of the vagina dentata myth.” Fun!

But kids today, they don’t know from nothin’. So the film’s website features a helpful tutorial. Let’s fisk, shall we?

“Vagina dentata, the unconscious belief that a woman may eat or castrate her partner during intercourse — literally, the ‘toothed vagina’ — is a classic mythological symbol of men’s fear of sex.

[Well, which is it? Unconscious belief or mythological symbol? Do men unconsciously believe that women will castrate them during sex? Or does the toothed vagina stand for something else? Say, the power of sex? Or woman’s power over man in the sexual arena? (See also, p****whipped.) But let’s not quibble!]

It appears in the mythology of countless cultures and societies down through the years.

• One Native American myth states ‘A fish inhabits the vagina of the Terrible Mother; the hero is the man who overcomes the Terrible Mother, breaks the teeth out of her vagina, and so makes her into a woman.’

[Um, is this about the fear of sex, or about the fear of matriarchal domination? Never mind – next!]

• The Yanomamo said one of the first beings on earth was a woman whose vagina became a toothed mouth and bit off her consort’s penis.

[Which makes you wonder how we ever got the next beings on earth…]

• The more patriarchal the society, the more deeply rooted the fear seems to be. Men of Malekula, having overthrown their matriarchate, were haunted by a Yonic spirit called ‘that which draws us to It so that It may devour us.’

[There has got to be a Nine Inch Nails song in here somewhere…]

• Chinese patriarchs said women’s genitals were not only gateways to immortality but also “executioners of men.”

[Yeah, there’s pretty much no way to comment on this without crossing whatever lines there are left to cross…]

• Muslim aphorisms said: “Three things are insatiable: the desert, the grave, and a woman’s vulva.”

[You mean to say that all this time, porn has been telling the truth about women? That they really do live in a state of perpetual sexual desire? Muslims and porn: finding common ground at last.]

• Polynesians said the savior-god Maui tried to find eternal life by crawling into the mouth (or vagina) of his mother Hina, in effect trying to return to the womb of the Creatress; but she bit him in two and killed him.

[Again, is this fear of sex, or another way of saying that you can’t go home again? That Mommy’s vagina is not where you belong?]

Looking into, touching or entering the female orifice seems fraught with hidden fears, signified by the confusion of sex with death in overwhelming numbers of male minds and myths.

[Oh. I thought the confusion of sex and death came from ecstasy – ex-stasis, standing outside yourself, the ‘little death’ of orgasm. Turns out it was just our fear of caves.]

Since vulvas have labiae, “lips,” many men have believed that behind the lips lie teeth. Christian authorities of the middle ages taught that certain witches, with the help of the moon and magic spells, could grow fangs in their vaginas. They likened women’s genitals to the “yawning” mouth of hell. How’s that for romantic?”

[Almost as romantic as taking time out to unroll a condom over your engorged member! Seriously, though. I’m not about to mount a defense of medieval attitudes toward sex. (Heh, heh, he said, “mount.”) But I do think it worth noting that those “Christian authorities” viewed the fanged vagina as an aberration of nature – the purview of witches, who altered nature via magic. That’s a little different from simply regarding everyday, ordinary vaginas as “executioners of men.”]

On The Dark Knight

I haven’t been to a movie in ages, but I went to the latest Batman movie this weekend and enjoyed it. As much as I liked comic books when I was a kid, I haven’t had a lot of enthusiasm for their latest incarnation on film. Batman Begins was a great improvement over all the Batman movies of the last 20 years or so, and The Dark Knight has even more to recommend it. Christian Bale is great as Bruce Wayne, and Heath Ledger is simply astounding as the Joker. I don’t know if it was Ledger’s intention to imitate Al Franken for the voice of the psychotic killer, but he makes for a disturbingly brilliant villain because of it. For example, imagine this as said by the Voice of Air America and improbable U.S. Senator:

Look what I have done to this city with a few drums of gas and a couple bullets. Nobody panics when the expected people get killed. Nobody panics when things go according to plan, even if the plans are horrifying. If I tell the press that tomorrow a gangbanger will get shot, or a truckload of soldiers will get blown up, nobody panics. But when I say one little old mayor will die, everyone loses their minds! Introduce a little anarchy, you upset the established order, and everything becomes chaos. I am an agent of chaos. And you know the thing about chaos, Harvey? It’s fair.

And this:

Why don’t we cut you up into little pieces and feed you to your pooches? Hmm? Then we’ll see, how loyal, a hungry dog really is. It’s not about the money… it’s about… sending a message. Everything burns.

It certainly isn’t the first time the Villain is more interesting than the Hero. Consider Satan in Paradise Lost and Iago in Othello. What is it about evil that fascinates us so much?

Something to do with acknowledging truths that make us uncomfortable. There’s something uncanny about this version of dramatic irony, in which a villain has the ability to see the truth and express for us what the Hero is unable to recognize – especially about himself. In The Dark Knight there are a number of scenes that reveal the Joker as a sicko that can’t be intimidated because of his masochistic desire to be hurt, or even killed. Plotwise, this means that forces for good are destined to fail when confronted with an evil that uses a kind of amoral jujutsu on these forces to achieve its own ends. Batman beats the hell out of the Joker to find out where the good people Rachel and Harvey are hidden. The Joker says, laughing even as Batman slams his head against the wall:

You have nothing to threaten me with. Nothing to do with all your strength.

If Batman were paying attention to the clever insanity of the Joker, he’d understand that the Joker will give Batman what Batman wants only when Batman becomes complicit in giving the Joker what the Joker wants. And not quite unwittingly. Batman loses it, literally, and makes a pact with the Devil every time he does.

I’m sure the movie was made with a huge budget, and there’s a lot for the eyes to feast on: beautiful women, cool gadgets, exotic locales, big explosions. There are also big, unsubtle ideas: Hell abounds, both in the images onscreen and the script. The first part of this conversation is a version of one of Kierkegaard’s parables:

Alfred Pennyworth: When I was in Burma, a long time ago, my friends and I were working for the local Government. They were trying to buy the loyalty of tribal leaders, bribing them with precious stones. But their caravans were being raided in a forest north of Rangoon by a bandit. We were asked to take care of the problem, so we started looking for the stones. But after six months, we couldn’t find anyone who had traded with him. One day I found a child playing with a ruby as big as a tangerine. The bandit had been throwing the stones away.

Bruce Wayne: Then why steal them?

Alfred Pennyworth: Because he thought it was good sport. Because some men aren’t looking for anything logical, like money. They can’t be bought, bullied, reasoned or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn.

This doesn’t actually make as much sense as it should until later in the movie, when we hear the rest of what turns out to be a parable for Hell.

Bruce Wayne: That man in Burma, did you ever catch him?

Alfred Pennyworth: Oh yes.

Bruce Wayne: How?

Alfred Pennyworth: We burned the forest.

That man in Burma may have wanted to watch the world burn, but he wasn’t the one who actually torched it. It’s significant that Bruceman is being instructed by Alfred, since we’re stuck with that old problem of confronting Evil with measures that might themselves be evil. Gotham stands in for civilization itself, so corrupt that the good are forced to act more and more secretly – “close to the chest”, as they say a number of times in the movie. Help itself might be a form of complicity; complicity leads to Hell. It’s a hell of Manichean dualism, where Good is left in isolation with its opposite. As the Joker says:

This is what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object. You truly are incorruptible aren’t you? You won’t kill me out of some misplaced sense of self-righteousness, and I won’t kill you, because you’re just too much fun. I think you and I are destined to do this forever.

Yep. But how should we react when the truth is articulated by a self-proclaimed “agent of chaos”? It should give us pause. It should disturb us. Goodness goes on forever, intermittently overcome by evil, which intrigues us endlessly. Even in a rubber suit and a clown’s make-up.

Dept. of Belated Birthday Gifts: Very funny…

…though it would be funnier if I was, well, actually writing a novel these days. Still, thanks much.

Quirk Update, Pentecostal Edition

I sometimes yawn in tongues.

Bird’s Nest In Your Hair

Chapter Six

She woke up for maybe the tenth time at around 7:00, before the sun was out. She stayed there on the couch, staring out the window and waiting for dawn to break. After the sun was up she put off getting up another hour, and then she went back and showered in the dark for a good twenty minutes. Other than one long, blank stare, she stayed clear of the mirror, and dried her hair with a towel while sitting under the comforter on the couch. She considered calling Father Adamowicz, thinking that he’d be more than happy to hear from her, but decided against it. She wasn’t scheduled to work that day, which seemed to be a stroke of good luck. She didn’t really feel like talking with anyone, though for some reason a part of her thought she should. She thought about pulling out her diary and writing her thoughts down there, but they were thoughts she wanted to get rid of rather than look over at some point in the future. She decided to take a walk, so after a small breakfast she got dressed and started up towards Capitol Hill.

During the night she’d dreamt of her childhood home, a small house with a short driveway in front and a backyard that was surrounded by a hedge and had four good sized trees. She thought about both the dream and some other memories of the house as she walked. The dream itself hadn’t been so bad; her mom had been trying to tell her something, but even though Diana could see her mouth moving, she couldn’t hear anything. Thinking back on the dream, she still had no idea what she might have imagined her mom trying to tell her. To take better care of herself? To find a boyfriend? Diana hadn’t a clue. Maybe some dreams have no real meaning at all. If this is true, Diana wondered, doesn’t that in itself mean something? It would, she thought. It would mean that without intention our minds work as randomly as the universe apparently works. Of course, sometimes dreams do seem to have meaning – just as things in our waking life seem to have meaning. Is it all just seeming? Under the circumstances, she felt this was comforting.

She was thinking of death because of Pete, but also because the dream she’d had that night had reminded her of something that happened just after her dad had committed suicide. Her mom was understandably having a difficult time of it in those first few weeks. She’d tried sending Diana to her own parents, but of course Diana needed her mother then, and her mother was also realizing how much she needed Diana. She had told all this to Diana in the years that followed. In their first few months alone together they stayed very close, which may have contributed to some of the difficulties that came up in Diana’s teenage years.

Diana remembered coming home from school one day just weeks after the suicide and seeing a big truck parked in the driveway. A large man with a scruffy beard and wearing orange coveralls was carrying logs from the back of the house and throwing them into the back of the truck. She heard a loud buzzing sound all around her, and when she went inside and looked out the back window she saw that it was a chainsaw. Another man in orange coveralls and goggles was cutting up one of the trees into smaller pieces. Diana thought he looked like a strange, ravenous monster. Behind him the stump rose up no more than a foot off the ground. Her mom was in her favorite chair, smoking a cigarette a little more aggressively than usual and drinking brown colored liquid from a glass with ice in it. Looking back on it now, she thought it had probably been Kahlua. Her mother’s head was resting on the back of the chair, and she didn’t move it when Diana walked into the room. Diana remembered wondering, “what did the tree ever do to you?” She didn’t say anything, but sat down on the sofa across from her mother, then turned around to look out the window as well.

All these years later she remembered a lot of what seemed to be unimportant details: her mom’s drink, of course, but also the way the sawdust was scattered across the grass; that the chain on the blade looked a more menacing version of the one on her bicycle, and that one of the workers was big and fat while the other was skinny, and that even to a girl of six this seemed too pat to be true. When she turned around to look back at her mother she saw that she had left and gone back into the bedroom. Diana stayed and watched, right up until the thin man came back with a big vacuum cleaner that took up most of the sawdust. Even now she thought that was a little strange, especially since the stump was still there.

A few weeks later Diana came home from school again to find that a different man was there, digging up the stump. By this time the surface of the wood wasn’t so pale and the stump itself didn’t look quite so forlorn. Her mom didn’t watch the man work this time, and the whole operation took several days. He alternated cutting with digging, and eventually he got it all out. Diana came home a third time to a different back yard. This time there was just a pile of fresh dirt and several smaller bushes where the tree had once been. By this time she was also glad to see that the tree was gone.

At the end of the school year her mother sold the house and they moved into an apartment complex less than a mile away. That way, her mother said, Diana didn’t have to change schools. The apartment was nice. It had two bedrooms and new carpet. Sometimes it didn’t smell very good in the hallway when the neighbors were cooking, and as the years passed she spent less and less time there. She couldn’t decide whether she missed the backyard or not, but she liked the swimming pool in the middle of the four buildings. A few kids from school lived in the same complex, but none of them were close friends. She continued dreaming of her old house every few nights, and still did even all these years later.

It might seem that Diana could have benefited from counseling, and while this might even be true, she had refused it at almost every opportunity. On a friend’s recommendation her mother had taken her to see a psychologist, but when Diana declared that she really didn’t want to talk to the strange lady again, her mother didn’t press the point. And in fact Diana seemed to be doing as well as any teenager. When she got older the counselors at school naturally knew her history, so they eagerly made themselves available to her, should she ever want to just someone to talk to. She did not. If they had known about her habit of making tiny cuts around her ankles, they may have been more insistent, but Diana was careful that nobody found out about this and eventually took care of the habit on her own. There were times when she thought of herself as a loner, but because she realized this she was very careful about staying in contact with a few close friends. Except for a few decisions she’d come to regard as mistakes (mostly concerning her boyfriend at that first job out of college), she was aware that she lived her life pretty much the way she chose to live it.

The sky was clear and the sun was out, and she eventually found herself in Volunteer Park. There were a few people milling about the museum and the greenhouses, but she kept her head down whenever anyone approached and kept her eyes on the scenery. For a few seconds she would feel just fine, and then it was as if everything was crumbling away beneath her. She recognized the thoughts that led to this feeling, but she really couldn’t stop herself from thinking them either. It was good to be walking, and once or twice she even began jogging a little, though never pulling her hands out of her pockets to break into a run. After she’d started jogging she somehow felt even more desperate, so she went back to walking.

She had trouble believing that Pete was really dead. Not that it didn’t make some sense as she looked back on the last few months. He’d seemed tired for quite a long time now – really about as long as she’d known him. Which meant that he really shouldn’t have seemed anything but normal, but she felt that on some level she had known how he felt, and knowing that she should have known suicide was possible, even probable. It was when she thought this that she actually stopped walking and stared at the pavement in front of her, frozen. Hadn’t she known? In a way, she had just been waiting for it to happen. She thought about some of their conversations, and then about some of those silent looks across the bar. Why had she ignored the signs? Respect for his privacy might have had something to do with it, but she wondered whether it was chiefly out of fear. What could she have possibly said? And this is when she felt everything beginning to crumble away again: the thought that she should have said something more during those silent moments when he was alone at the bar. Something. Anything at all, but something. This, she went on to tell herself, was normal. This was common among people who had known a suicide. She’d read this in dozens of magazine articles over the years, and perhaps had heard something like it from the counselor she saw at school in the years following her father’s death.

It might seem helpful to normalize the desolation following suicide by considering a generalized condition of human helplessness in the face of death. In this particular instance, however, there was also the fact that she had served him four beers inside of an hour, not long before he’d decided to launch a vintage Ford Mustang into a cement wall. This was why Bill had been upset, and rather than being angry with him, she saw the entire incident from his perspective. There was the legal issue as well, which he’d been hinting at (or so she thought). To what extent was Diana responsible, having served Pete those drinks the night he died? What she thought Bill probably didn’t know was that she actually wanted to be taken away by the police; that would be a fitting ending, and would tie up a lot of loose ends besides. It wasn’t as if she had to try to see things that way; she couldn’t help it.

Seeing the entire episode from Bill’s point of view, she became even more angry than he’d been the day before. Then the anger was her own, and directed at herself. Then it wasn’t so much that everything felt like it was slipping away; then it was as if everything was lined up against her. She was angry enough to pull out her hair. She actually stopped walking several times while she did this, or at least started to. Once she yelled out loud. Even the trees in the park seemed to stand against her, waiting for her, and thinking about her dream and the house, she gasped and then laughed. At first she laughed on purpose, as if to ease the tension building up inside of her, but as soon as it was out of her mouth it sounded cruel. Then she heard the beginning of a crying jag, and then also a tone she didn’t recognize. She was laughing again, harder than she’d originally intended.

I’m becoming hysterical, she thought to herself. I can’t cry anymore, so I’m laughing instead. She found a park bench at the edge of a field that was relatively isolated, and with her eyes closed she tried to concentrate on the feeling of the warm sun on her face. After a few minutes she opened her eyes, looked out across the park, and tried to put her feelings in perspective. She couldn’t. By the time she went home it was mid afternoon and getting colder. She felt like she’d done her duty by going for a walk, but she was also getting tired of the day and was looking forward to night.

An overwhelming feeling of depression never seemed to be far off, and to the spirit of self-destruction she so often felt circling above her she would sometimes respond with the most ridiculous of suicidal thoughts. A hanging (the inherited form) was simple, readily available and therefore frequent, but as it had for so long gone untried she had begun to conjure up increasingly inventive endings that sometimes became unintentionally comical. A self-inflicted gunshot wouldn’t do (she didn’t have a gun anyway) – she had to blow herself up with a couple of sticks of dynamite, like a terrorist. The jump from a bridge or a tall building became a swan dive. Slitting her wrists became something managed with piano wire (she’d seen this in a horror movie), and a bottle of pills was replaced with a vile of botulism (once available, with some difficulty, from the lab where she used to work). This also made her want to laugh, although the feeling was different. It was a good laugh, even if it still sometimes happened on the verge of tears. It alleviated the desperation a little. It was also very sad, and usually tears of resignation won out in the end (okay, so I won’t lop my hand off after all), and she just went on living.

When she did cry, she felt a little better. If she cried for an especially long time, it was as if she was able to slough off a thick layer of skin. Afterwards she again felt strangely calm. Then the cycle would begin all over again.

Sheer Tedium

Against the admonishments of my confessor, I’m prone to staying up at ungodly hours. When I should be snoozing soundly alongside the snoozing loveliness of my wife, I instead find myself roaming the blogosphere and gawking at the spectacle of the likes of this and this.

Darwin Catholic, commenting at Catholic and Enjoying It! hits the nail on the head:

Evil is probably the right word.

And the sheer tedium of trying to read through Myers’ post and his interminable chorus of yes-man commenters underscores the incredible banality of evil.

And here it is past midnight and I’ve been wading through this crap again. And still haven’t made good on the promise of some commentary on Exiles. And where is brother-blogger Quin and his AWOL novel?


…I haven’t seen Brideshead yet. But I did enjoy this early review:

Making notes in 1949 for a review of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited , George Orwell wrote that “Waugh is about as good a novelist as one can be… while holding untenable opinions.” Which is a nice way of saying that Waugh, a world-class satirist of everyone from the rich down, was also a social-climbing snob, an anti-Semite and fascist sympathizer, a hater of modernity and by extension (as anyone knows who has read The Loved One, his handy evisceration of the California funeral business) all things American.

[Really? I thought it just meant that Waugh was a Catholic. Learning is fun! I’m pretty sure it’s wrong on the “all things American” count, however. The man didn’t think we were a nation of Joyboys.]

Not that this deterred the millions of Americans who wolfed down the British television adaptation of Brideshead when it aired on PBS in 1981. Cruising right past the novel’s crass Yank (disguised as a Canadian, but it was all the same to Waugh)

[That’s a pretty damning thing to say about a novelist. Seems to me a novelist’s virtue lies in picking out exactly how things are not the same. But then, I’m not a film critic!]

…who does business with the Nazis and sells his wife for a few paintings,


just about every Anglophile I knew fell for the lovely country seat and its delicate-featured nobles dripping with diamonds, Catholic guilt and all. Personally, I never saw the point of stretching out this crisply written and none too long novel about England collapsing under the pressure of social change into a depressive 11-hour slog.

[Ah – a contrarian.]

A movie adaptation, even one passed through the pop filter of co-writer Andrew Davies, British TV’s designated gatekeeper of all properties literary to the masses, sounds like much more fun. And though I can imagine Waugh rolling his eyes at the very idea of Brideshead Revisited as “a heartbreaking romantic epic,” this remake is, often inadvertently, closer to the novel’s spirit than the sepulchral television series, albeit still not half as waggishly Waugh-ish as Bright Young Things, Stephen Fry’s delightfully naughty interpretation of Vile Bodies.

Adapted by Davies with Jeremy Brock, Brideshead isn’t much of a story. Charles Ryder (Matthew Goode), a wan young student who comes from trade, is taken up at Oxford by the feverishly gay

[If Sebastian is feverishly gay, then what is Blanche? Plagueishly gay?]

and increasingly alcoholic aristocrat Sebastian Flyte (Ben Whishaw) and soon finds himself caught up in Sebastian’s struggle with his intensely Catholic family. What it lacks in plot, however, is made up for in atmosphere and constant movement. As directed by Julian Jarrold (who already displayed impressive chops for jollying up the classics by bestowing a saucy love life on Jane Austen in Becoming Jane),

[“Jollying up the classics” is my new favorite euphemism.]

Brideshead Revisited -revisited is a less gloomy affair than its predecessor, boasting better stately homes and gardens bathed in a warm chocolate glow, colorful trips abroad to Venice and Morocco, a marketably youthful cast, and broad winks at the novel’s repressed homosexual attraction between Charles and Sebastian.

[“Bathed in a warm chocolate glow” is my new favorite cooking term. But again – what does the “catalog of mortal sins” line from Charles’ description of the summer indicate if not a homosexual attraction that was not repressed?]

Nothing wrong with any of that—Waugh was an observant creature of the Jazz Age he deplored.

[Did he always deplore it? Did his worldview shift at all after his disastrous first marriage? After his conversion? After the early novels? Who cares!]

If the movie strives and fails to redirect the erotic flow to the heterosexual love between Charles Ryder and Sebastian’s sister, Julia Flyte, so, too, did Waugh, almost certainly a closeted homosexual inhibited by his conversion to Catholicism.

[Why didn’t I know this? Why does the reviewer know it? More importantly, how does the reviewer know it?]

As Julia, Hayley Atwell has none of TV-Julia Diana Quick’s tortured inner radiance, and when she and Charles finally rip off their silken evening clothes aboard a cruise liner, you want to laugh, or look away. In the end nothing that goes on in this youthful triangle proves as compelling as the great, sick love story between the teddy-clutching Sebastian (Whishaw is show-stoppingly queeny and heart-stoppingly vulnerable) and his mummy, an ice-floe nicely understated by Emma Thompson as a woman at once energized and doomed by her devotion to Catholic orthodoxy.

[Ah. It’s a movie about a gay and his mom.]

Waugh, whose cruelty to others in life and literature was legendary, was merciless in taking down this rigidly controlling woman and the son she destroys. But the truly malevolent power of Brideshead Revisited

[Malevolent? Methinks I hear an axe beginning to grind…]

is his identification with what she stood for — a literal reading of the Vatican texts,

[BAM. Because everybody knows that the Vatican texts must be read figuratively, metaphorically – like the Bible!]

the preservation of ancient tradition,

[AIEEEE! Ancient = malevolent?]

and keeping her snooty class free of contamination by interlopers like Charles — and Waugh himself.

[Right. Because English Catholics were entirely of a piece with the rest of the English aristocracy. That’s clear in the novel.]

Late in the day, Waugh turns a pitiless, accusing gaze on Charles’ unacknowledged motives for worming his way into the Marchmain household, and makes him over as a species of villain. You can’t read this switcheroo in the 21st-century

[A century unclouded by warm chocolate glows!]

without revulsion at the self-laceration with which Waugh punished himself for his own pent-up sexuality

[! No, seriously: !]

and his yearning to join a class he was not born into, and at his retreat into unbending religious orthodoxy. Still, though Brideshead Revisited the movie is far from deep,

[Unlike this here review!]

you have to admire the way it refrains from seizing the day for a post-modern lecture on the perils of fundamentalism, and confines itself to the disturbing vision of Evelyn Waugh.

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Robert Bridges on the Cover of Time

December 2, 1929


by Tink McCain, age 4

Not dead. Just unlively.

I think.