Steve Zaillian’s adaptation of Robert Penn Warren’s 1946 Pulitzer Prize–winning novel All the King’s Men, about the making of a demagogue—modeled on Louisiana governor (and later senator) Huey Long—is languid, undramatic and shapeless. Zaillian has a talent for streamlining big, incident-filled books.
This morning’s miracle: dawn turned up its dimmer, set the net of frost on the lawn to shining. The sky, lightly iced with clouds, stretched from horizon to horizon, not an inch to spare, and later, the sun splashed its bucket of light on the ground. But it’s never enough. The hungry heart wants more: another ten years with the man you love, even though you’ve had thirty; one more night rinsed in moonlight, bodies twisted in sheets, one more afternoon under the plane trees by the fountain, with a jug of red wine and bits of bread scattered around. More, even though the dried grasses are glowing in the dying light, and the hills are turning all the syllables of lavender, as evening draws the curtains, turns on the lamps. One more book, one more story, as if all the words weren’t already written, as if all the plots haven’t been used, as if we didn’t know the ending already, as if this time, we thought it could turn out differently.
It was the age of levitations and decapitations, of ghostly apparitions and sudden vanishings, as if the tottering Hapsburg Empire were revealing through the medium of its magicians its secret desire for annihilation.” So writes Pulitzer Prize–winning author Steven Millhauser in “Eisenheim the Illusionist,” one of the finest stories in his 1990 collection The Barnum Museum.
The first act of the satirical comedy Little Miss Sunshine has an affable scattershot loopiness. Frank (Steve Carell), an English professor hospitalized after a suicide attempt (he broke down upon losing his male grad-student lover to an academic rival), is released into the hands of his sister, Sheryl (Toni Collette).
Here’s your Ash Wednesday story. A mother carries her tiny daughter With her as she gets ashed and the Girl, curious and wriggly, squirms Into the path of the priest’s thumb Just as the finger is about to arrive On the mother’s forehead, and the Ashes go right in the kid’s left eye. She starts to cry, and there’s a split Second as the priest and the mother Gawk, and then they both burst out Laughing. The kid is too little to be Offended, and the line moves along, But this stays with me; not the ashy Eye as much as the instant when all Could have been pain and awkward But instead it led to mutual giggling. We are born of dust and star-scatter And unto this we shall return, this is The Law, but meantime, by God, we Can laugh our asses off. What a gift, You know? Let us snicker while we Can, brothers and sisters. Let us use That which makes dark things quail.
Between 1990 and 2010, Iowa lost over 500 churches. The numbers reflect migration from rural to urban areas and the fewer number of people who identify with a faith community. The decline in churches is having a direct effect on the social fabric of the state. According to research at Iowa State University, nine out of ten rural people said they rely less on their neighbors than they once did. Surviving churches have gone back to older patterns to find leadership, engaging itinerant pastors or lay leaders. Some are surviving through cooperation with other denominations or with ethnic Christian groups (Pacific Standard, January 20).