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Brokeback Mountain & Housekeeping

Just in time for the Golden Globes, Friday night we saw Brokeback Mountain, a well-made, tender film with enough pathos to make you cry if you’re so inclined. It’s not the best movie of 2005—for me that honor goes to The Constant Gardener, a beautiful movie with perhaps a too convoluted plot—but it’s really good. A lot of people have said a lot of good things about Brokeback Mountain. Heath Ledger’s taciturn performance is weighted with grief and passion, it’s an unexpected but not surprising turn on an old genre, and it tacitly approves of same-sex relationships (Note that there’s a story behind that last rating): All constitute high praise, and the movie is well deserving of it. For me, I like Brokeback for its frank, uncompromising treatment of forbidden love. It’s few movies that derail love so well, even though it is derailing that reveals love’s power both to devastate and to create life. I like Brokeback Mountain because it manages to explore love deeply, and I like it because, sadly, that’s something rare in film. And it’s not nearly as startling as Edward Albee’s play, The Goat.

Also this weekend I finished Marilynne Robinson’s novel Housekeeping which I decided to read before picking up Gilead and discovering what all the fuss has been about. Housekeeping is a brilliant little book, a book of setting and coming-of-age story in which one girl discovers her calling. There’s a certain literariness of Robinson’s style that put me off at first—the best I can describe it, which isn’t very well, is that it reminded me of a less dense Virginia Woolf—but I think that’s more a fault of the reader than the novel, and I forgave Robinson for it by book’s end. There is a lake that drowns everything, whole trains and mothers and towns, and the novel is caught up in the question of whether it will also drown the protagonists, sisters Ruthie and Lucille and their aunt Sylvie. Meanwhile, the novel has other preoccupations: What happens when you make a transient person stay in one place?; How does definition of transience as a state of grace subvert a life that seeks to homestead? It is a novel that, by its end, appeals to the children of Cain (nomads all), but which begins here,

My name is Ruth. I grew up with my younger sister, Lucille, under the care of my grandmother, Mrs. Sylvia Foster, and when she died, of her sisters-in-law, Misses Lily and Nona Foster, and when they fled, of her daughter, Mrs. Sylvia Fisher. Through all these generations of elders we lived in one house, my grandmother’s house, built for her by her husband, Edmund Foster, an employee of the railroad, who escaped this world years before I entered it. It was he who put us down in this unlikely place.

With that the novel resonates throughout.

 

Comments

Some time ago I was asked for any good Marilynne Robinson stories. I can no longer remember what post/comment the query originally showed up in, but since I just got back from Wyoming (more on that also soon), this seemed an auspicious site.

Sadly, I have no real stories—Marilynne, despite her eccentricities (she doesn’t drive and doesn’t wear glasses, even though she needs them) doesn’t seem to be someone about whom one can tell anecdotes. I took four classes from her, and she was on my thesis committee, and I have lots of notes on intelligent and often wise things she said, but no stories.

I also haven’t read Gilead yet, but it’s on my list.

Actually, that seems to be a general consensus—one doesn’t hear much about her in general. She is seen at the Co-Op; she is heard from at the UCC downtown, but that’s about all. Thanks, anyway, for indulging my curiosity!