Barry Unsworth’s 1995 novel has a terrific hook: Sometime in England’s fourteenth century, a demoralized, fugitive priest becomes part of a band of wandering players–and helps them solve a local murder. I loved so much of this slender book, and frequently stopped to savor its pleasures. The priest is mostly a terrific narrator: slightly pedantic, certain of his own unworth, headstrong but with a taste for helplessness. The setup is so smart. The players, under severe financial pressure–they need to… Read more

reviewing a recent book on the German 1890s through the rise of the Nazis: Martin Duberman, in his recent “novel/history” Jews Queers Germans, rarely describes clothing. He describes, instead, physical attractiveness—the role of sex appeal in history. Admiration for male physical beauty shapes the lives and beliefs of all his heroes and, by the end, two of his villains. Describing the social status granted by bodies instead of by clothes also perfectly illustrates one of Duberman’s subjects: the final defeat… Read more

criticizing their most recent study. Giving me space to do this is v. characteristic of these people’s generosity btw: What about marriage before kids? Some women prefer single motherhood, due to their assessments of the men around them. But they know it’s harder financially. Doesn’t everyone? And the large majority of my clients, while reluctant to judge others’ lives, believe marriage would be best for their own babies. So why doesn’t it work out that way? There are two main… Read more

Oculus is a time-bending, hallucination-filled tale of an old and evil mirror that destroys a family by making the dad do bad things. This sounds predictable, yes? “The Shining, but cheesy,” you’re thinking. But that’s a much apter comparison than it might seem. Oculus has Stephen King’s ability to capture the real emotional dynamics in violent families. What starts out as a fairly ordinary paranormal-or-madness? tale turns into a jagged meditation on what it’s like to survive child abuse. Oculus… Read more

This is a documentary about Anthony Weiner’s 2013 campaign for mayor of New York City. At the start of the film–whose makers included a former aide–Weiner has already resigned in disgrace from Congress after a sexting scandal. But he’s back and hungry for his second chance. Spoiler alert, he extremely does not become mayor, because it turns out he was still sending girls raunchy photos of himself after he said he’d stopped. After the movie’s release he pled guilty to… Read more

a book crafted, it would seem, utterly and precisely pour moi: The first addicts to stumble across the threshold of the English language, refugees from Latin, were not only drunks or gamblers. Their ranks included devout Christians and scholars. Today we argue about whether addiction is a sin or a sickness, but when the term first entered our language it could name a virtue and an accomplishment: In the 16th century “addiction” covered many forms of “service, debt, and dedication,”… Read more

I am delighted to report that Harrison Lemke is at it again. This indie music guy, whose album inspired by the Book of Genesis I reviewed for First Things, is back with a four-song EP exploring the emotional landscape of our first parents, and the sudden changes their sin made in the world around them. It’s so terrific–wistful, stunned, self-lacerating. Lemke finds images I’d never considered: the first death, which is not a human death but a sparrow’s. The first… Read more

So there are way more orthodox gay people, seeking to live in obedience to the Church, than pretty much anybody realizes, and they have every possible spirituality and theology within the Church. There are gay folk for whom the Franciscan way shines with light, and gay folk who are very into Opus Dei, Byzantine gay people and flamboyant-Spanish-crucifix gay people; and these are all people who accept themselves as gay. And so I’ve recently talked with a couple of Our… Read more

at First Things: I Am Not a Witch, the brilliant feature debut of Zambian-Welsh writer and director Rungano Nyoni, is a satire with the haunting, surreal sensibility of a fairy tale. A little girl is accused of witchcraft, and driven on a forced journey through an entire society, from parched agrarian fields to a TV call-in talk show. Her enigmatic silence and possible magic powers expose the folly and wickedness of the adults around her—and expose, also, the inevitable consequences… Read more

Clash: On paper, this is a fairly formulaic movie. During the 2013 conflict between supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Egyptian Armed Forces, a group of Egyptians (and Egyptian-Americans) from disparate religious, political, and social backgrounds all get shoved into the same locked police van, and discover one another’s common humanity. “My enemies are people” is one of those things easy to write but complex to learn; Clash takes the viewer on the journey with the characters, so their… Read more

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