When we weren't huddling in front of wood stoves, I saw a movie and read a book and started another, and all three are worth mentioning, I think.
The movie was "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri" starring Frances McDormand and Woody Harrelson.
It is a powerful movie with amazing peformances and wonderful writing.
Director Martin McDonagh has created a tragi-comedy with equal and alternating scenes of very dark humor and sometimes savage violence. One reviewer called it a violent carnival of small-town American life, and I think that description works.
The movie is on every critic'a short list for Best Picture and Best Actress.
That narrative is that Mildred's (McDorman) daughter was murdered and raped, she very personally challenges the dying police chief (Harrelson) to solve the murder. Her unrelenting rage engulfs the whole town.
In between her fury, she sometimes erupts in great compassion, and those moments are remarkable.
This is a powerful and challenging movie – McDormand is just amazing to watch – but it left me a bit uneasy and unsatisfied. I'm just not sure what to make of it. McDonagh's message is one of hope and compassion. We are all human and worthy of compassion, no matter what horrible things we do to one another.
That seems a kind of Disney fantasy to me, although a worthy ambition. We humans are often quite vicious to one another, and compassion seems to exist on the fringes of politics and culture.
I didn't find the funny parts funny, so the movie seemed out of whack to me, and I just wasn't sure what the point of all the violence was in relationship to hope and compassion. That could just be me.
It's not a bad message, especially these days, but I think I knew that we are all human, no matter what we do to one another. That is the drama of humans.
The steady mix of brutality and cruelty juxtaposed with sudden bursts of true compassion and humanity was confusing me, but it sure makes for an interesting movie. And perhaps the idea was to keep the audience off balance.
I highly recommend seeing it, even though I freely admit I was somewhat flummoxed by it.
I just finished the most wonderful novel, it's called "Priestdaddy," and it's a memoir, written by the poet Patrica Lockwood. She is one of the best writers I can remember reading, the book is a funny, rich, deep and poignant look at life with her father, a married Catholic priest who got permission from the church be be ordained. I laughed out loud a hundred times and was in an awe of the writing.
Lockwood grew up with her mother and sister and eccentric Married Priest Father and lived in churches and rectories all over the Midwest, usually in awful towns. The memoir is a timely and penetrating look at the contradictions of modern Catholicism.
Check out her books of poetry, they are wonderful as well.
I can't say enough about the book, it is compelling and beautifully written. And at times, hilarious. She writes like a dream, with energy, wit and insight.
I just started a collection of stories called "Sour Heart," by Jenny Zhang, a very beautifully written series of stories about immigration in America. I'm on the second story, and loving every page.
Just wanted to pass those things along for those of you emerging from the frozen tundra to rejoin the world. Bless all of you.