“Unmaker’s Mark”: I review “What Happened to Sophie Wilder”

at AmCon: ...There’s a lot going on here. There’s Sophie’s quest for identity (she has three different surnames throughout the novel), a quest she seems to be trying to escape—she wants to surrender to an identity, sink into it, rather than having to go out and conquer and defend it. She doesn’t want her conversion and subsequent changed life to be about her search for self, but about her encounter with God. There’s a grim consideration of suffering and how it resists narrative. … [Read more...]

“Home Is Anywhere You Hang Your Head”: Me on VS Naipaul

at Acculturated: From Gothic novels to indie-rock lyrics, the house is a mirror of the troubled family within it. V.S. Naipaul’s 1961 novel A House for Mr Biswas is another one of these broken-home narratives; the Trinidadian novelist presents a surprisingly moving satire of arranged marriage and thwarted ambition. Mohun Biswas—always referred to by the narrator as “Mr Biswas,” even while he’s still a baby—lives in a makeshift, repurposed, patched and jerry-built world. Every … [Read more...]

“Advice for Couples: Give Less Advice”: WSJ

Here's a feature article on one of my many obsessions. And yes, I hate "studies have found" too, but much of this rings true. I wish they'd elaborated more on the problems with simply recasting advice as, "When something similar happened to me, I..." storytelling. I've found that people giving advice on how to give advice typically think that will "work," but in practice it often causes offense (how dare you suggest that my occasional extra Snickers bar is like your drinking problem?!--not a … [Read more...]

“I’m Gay, But I’m Not Switching to a Church That Supports Gay Marriage”: me at the Atlantic

here you go... When I became Catholic in 1998, as a college sophomore, I didn't know any other gay Christians. I'd been raised in a kind of pointillist Reform Judaism, almost entirely protected from homophobia; when I realized I was gay it was, if anything, a relief. I thought I finally had an explanation for the persistent sense of difference I'd felt since early childhood. This sheltered upbringing may help explain my sunny undergraduate confidence that even though I knew of literally nobody … [Read more...]

“Friendship in Between ‘Romance’ and Loneliness”: Wesley Hill

blogs; did I post this already? It's from a few months ago. Anyway I just re-read it and liked it a lot. Comments also worth reading! Early on in Mark Vernon’s insightful book The Meaning of Friendship, there’s this throwaway observation: “In TV soaps, the characters always have their friends to return to when their sexual adventures fail; lovers come and go, but friends remain.” Reading that sentence, I think not only of old favorites like Seinfeld and Friends but of more recent … [Read more...]

“The Sheep from the Goats”: I review “What Maisie Knew”

at AmCon. Spoilers. There may not be many movies with happy endings more heartless than the one in What Maisie Knew. The new adaptation of Henry James’s novel about divorce as seen through the eyes of a small child does some things really well. All of the acting is great, especially Onata Aprile as six-year-old Maisie and Steve Coogan as her art-dealer father. Cell phones are used terrifically to create a sense of parental distraction, chaos, and irreconcilable conflicting demands. We … [Read more...]

“All-Weather Friends”: me on Wallace Stegner

at Acculturated: All three novels of marriage I’ve looked at so far have a certain sense of the privacy of marriage, which can become isolation. In fact, the focus has narrowed with each novel: Extended family and community are essential parts of Kristin Lavransdatter, but its heart remains with Kristin’s marriage and home; the isolation of the married couple is part of the point of How to Be Good; and Gilead gains much of its force from the sense that the dying narrator is increasingly … [Read more...]


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