Kent Haruf and the Tie that Binds


By Rebecca A. Spears

When you know people all your life you try to understand how it is for them. What you can’t understand you just accept. —Kent Haruf, The Tie that Binds

I’ve lived most of my life in cities with a population of a million or more, but once or twice I’ve lived in smaller communities of 25,000 or so, where I might run into people more than once. In big cities one person can’t know even a fraction of the inhabitants. So, most city-dwellers cultivate communities with family, friends, colleagues, and other fellow travelers.

How is this so different from life in small towns? In a city like Houston, I don’t have to just accept the people around me. If a relationship with a friend doesn’t suit me, I can move on to other friendships. If I suddenly stop writing and decide to desert my writing group, I might associate more with ice sculptors or entomologists or long-distance runners. Large communities allow people to be more selfish, defining and always seeking their own desires.

In the late Kent Haruf’s novel Plainsong, abandonment and acceptance are always in play. Victoria Roubideaux, a pregnant teen, suddenly finds herself homeless after her mother locks her out of the house. Maggie Jones, a teacher at her high school, takes her in and helps her. Through Maggie, Victoria eventually realizes that there is a place in the community for her, that people in it will love her like family. To get her to see the reality of her situation, Maggie speaks kindly but directly: “Honey…. Listen to me. You’re here now. This is where you are.” [Read more...]

The Eighth Day: Reclaiming a Neglected Novel

3220989233_da89ced170_zIt must be a common occurrence—having certain inanimate things make periodic appearances throughout a life, much like acquaintances who keep popping up in odd places—on the bus, in a crowd, across a room. They’re noticed, but barely so; the conscious mind remarks upon them—“There’s that thing again”—then moves on until they reappear, stepping out from the flood of experience with a gentle tug at the sleeve.

When I was a boy, a paperback copy of Thornton Wilder’s The Eighth Day would appear like this. I remember it on a table; I remember it in a box; the last time I recall seeing it, the book lay on the floor of a garage closet. It was a thick little text, with a cover that bore a sunrise in a yellowish cast and a title in Ten Commandment-size font. Still, I don’t remember ever thumbing through it. At some point, it must have been thrown away; it disappeared and has never resurfaced.

Not physically, at least; but later on, as though it had evanesced into the spiritual world in order to permeate the weightless atmosphere of the mind, someone mentioned the book to me. I was told that a novel I’d written (as yet unpublished) had put her in mind of it. Flattered, amused that the old paperback visitor had come to call once again, I began to use the comparison myself. [Read more...]

Art on Fire: The Life and Work of Melissa Weinman, Part 2

By Richard Cole
ROSEFIRE IweinmanContinued from yesterday

When Weinman completed her fellowship in Europe, she came back to the U.S., where she began a new life that included marriage, the birth of two daughters, and a new chapter in her pilgrim faith.

“I think I’m a Christian, but I don’t know how to do it.” This was how she approached an Episcopal priest in her neighborhood, looking for spiritual direction. Although he was on the point of retirement, he agreed to meet with her once a week, and for the next year, they discussed Christian teachings and the Bible.

During this period, she created “Study for Christ,” a charcoal and conté crayon drawing of a young, muscular man with close-cropped hair. “I drew Jesus as kind of a tough guy, but that was alright, because that’s what I needed in this very uncertain world.”

The drawing marked a turning point in both her art and faith. “By drawing Jesus, I came into relationship with Jesus,” she says, acknowledging that, in many ways, she was no longer the artist who had painted the suffering saints.

“It’s weird to look back at the person I was then, how angry and resentful. I used those images to gain attention but also to illustrate their suffering. The paintings were dark, and I thought that a painting could redeem suffering, and that was noble. But now I began to shed that person.” [Read more...]

Art on Fire: The Life and Work of Melissa Weinman, Part 1

By: Richard Cole

Weinman_Even the Night Shall Be Light About Me_2_web (1)In a recent painting by Melissa Weinman, a small, white rose floats over darkness. The rose is in full blossom, almost blown, and crowned by a pale fire rising from its petals like mist.

The effect is arresting, almost hallucinatory, but this is not an image that is merely unusual—a pretty flower on fire. Instead, the painting holds us in abeyance. We enjoy both what we can see and what escapes us. We have the sense that this is not the odd, passing moment but a steady state, something more than physical that is burning with something more than fire.

The painting’s title, “Even the Night Shall Be Light About Me,” a quote from Psalm 139, directs us to think in terms of sacred art. But to better understand this image and the beauty it portrays, we also need to approach it as art deeply informed by the spiritual life of the artist. [Read more...]

The Art of the Authentic: Bill Baer’s Times Square

times squareIn 1973, Orson Welles made a documentary, F for Fake, in which he followed the story of Elmyr de Hory, a famous forger whose work was indistinguishable from the great masters he mimicked.

One of the participants in the film was writer Clifford Irving, Elmyr’s biographer, who was holding forth on the forger while at the very same time perpetrating a literary fraud by penning a false autobiography of Howard Hughes. Welles, the narrator, delighted in reminding the audience that he, Welles, was also one the biggest hucksters of all time, whose radio hoax about a flying saucer invasion caused a national uproar that thousands actually believed. [Read more...]