Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Longmire's Magical Realism

I never really expected to like Longmire. But since the advent of DVRs and Netflix I've become a fan of the small screen. With multiple episodes and seasons to delve into character, TV shows have become much more compelling entertainment for me than movies. Now, I—who used to not own a television on principal—enjoy fangirling over my favorite shows.

Back to ... I never really expected to like Longmire. But we were in the middle of seasons with not much to watch and it popped up on our radar. The first show hooked me: the characters, the writing, and that jaw-dropping scenery. I mean, what's not to love about a stoic male hero who looks great in a cowboy hat and boots? Which Robert Taylor does! (What is it with these actors from Down Under ...  Simon Baker?!?) And Longmire is a widower. His wife's ashes reside in a tin box labeled Tea in his kitchen. Her body may have departed from this world, but Martha's memory informs every aspect of who Walt Longmire is and who he remains to become. Did I mention that he refuses to own a cellphone (be still my Luddite heart) and picks up stray beer cans (the treehugger in me beams) because he hates to see them mucking up his beloved Absaroka County?

And then there's his friend Henry Standing Bear—"It's a beautiful day at the Red Pony and continual soiree"—played by Lou Diamond Phillips. His one-liners are some of the best dialog in the show. I want to take a road trip to Wyoming, hang out at the Red Pony, and drink Ranier beer even though I hate beer!

Okay, not enough to love in one show? Then add Vic Moretti (played brilliantly by Katee Sackhoff), deputy to Longmire's sheriff. Her hair is always a mess and her mouth is always sharp. In other words she's real. She doesn't go around chasing bad guys and girls in heels with a blow out.

And then there's deputy Branch Connally, challenging his boss in the upcoming election. He's the prissy one. And Ferg, the young deputy who's trying to find himself, his courage, his sense of purpose.

There are three more elements I love about this show.

Yes, it's a law and order/crime show, but the crimes are not retreads. Each one tugs at your heart and many leave you with a good look at what's wrong with this world. There is little stark us vs. them, cliched dichotomy, right/wrong here. The misguided, wrong-headed, and wrong-hearted wreak havoc on those around them with a reality that is often painful to watch.

Absaroka County borders a Cheyenne reservation. The distrust between the two nations is portrayed with both a simplicity and complexity that feels tense, raw, harsh, and palpable.

The show really shines when it enters the territory of magical realism and brings Native American spirituality and culture into the episodes—Contrary Clowns, Dog Soldiers, Eagle Feathers, and White Warriors. Sigh. I'm so thrilled Netflix picked it up for its fourth season ... which was released on September 10th.

We're currently binge watching Season Four after re-running the first three.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The Bursting Sexuality of Teenage Girls

Religion plays a large part in the The Unraveling of Mercy Louis by Keija Parssinen. The book opens on the last day of school, the end of Mercy’s junior year in high school. A star basketball player, she’s recovering from her team’s loss of a state championship and her loss of the collegiate scholarships that victory would have secured for her.

On the verge of womanhood, Mercy is dominated by her pious grandmother. However, the core of Mercy’s identity is shaped by the absence of her mother. As the story progresses, Mercy’s Charmaine-shaped hole undermines the framework of her accomplishments, much-like a sinkhole might collapse the stilts of a house built to withstand future floods.

The novel is set in the small town of Port Sabine, TX, Janis Joplin’s birthplace. It’s a great choice for a story about the physical, psychological, and spiritual constraints of a city with little more than a Sonic to showcase the bursting sexuality of its teenage girls.

A dead baby discovered in a dumpster early on galvanizes accusations, shame, suspicion and political ambition.

The lens is a sharp one. Sex is forbidden, a young woman’s body to be saved for the marriage bed, sealed with vows of chastity made at purity balls. There’s no middle ground, no room for reality or humanity to seep in. The whole story drives home the difficulty of those years when hormones rule flesh awakening to desire; and hearts yearn for love beyond the confines of the parental home. Tricky ones, those years. The space between what actually happens and "what is purported as ideal” creates a gulf so wide nothing constructed by human hands could bridge it.

Mercy’s slide into the uncharted abyss every teenage girl must navigate is harrowing, moving, touching, and penetrating, as her grandmother’s spiritual knife becomes ruthless and attempts to sever all that is life-giving at the roots.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Ordinary Women and Mothers as Heroes

I love a gritty thriller, good vs. evil in the ordinary world, and I just finished reading White is the Coldest Color by John Nicholl. It's an easy read, whipped through it in a couple days. The gist of the story: an esteemed child psychiatrist, Dr. David Galbraith, is the virulent head of a pedophile ring. What I enjoyed about the book was the characters. Specifically, the depiction of Galbraith, Molly Mailer, and Galbraith's wife, Cynthia, introduced in chapters 1, 2 & 3, respectively.

Galbraith is portrayed as psychologically and emotionally dependent on his prey. Fueled by his arrogance, this dependence is his motivating force. He comes across as a very weak and shabby person. Which, of course, is awesome, and also truthful. His misogyny is also clearly on display. Which I also liked—not the misogyny, but how the story drives home that women-hating is an essential characteristic of such a monster.


Molly Mailer is the mother of Galbriath's next victim. She's quite the ordinary woman, what with her marriage falling apart because her husband has moved in with "some Tart" and her teenager daughter sneaking out at night and her young son wetting the bed and socially withdrawing as the result of his father's abandonment. Hers is not the glamorous life. But if Molly is anything, she is the "good enough" mother. And this infuriates Galbraith. Molly watches out for her son, and this makes it increasingly difficult for the doctor to assault him. I appreciated how Nicholl showed Galbraith's rage at Molly for obstructing his soul- and life-killing cravings. By simply being herself, Molly inadvertently protects her son from a serial predator who is not even on her radar due to his social veneer.  For this alone, Molly is a hero. However, when Galbraith loses control and physically assaults her, the stakes are raised. She survives and will be the one to definitively identify her son's abductor.

Galbraith's wife, Cynthia is portrayed as the classical abused wife. Transformed into a trembling, obedient figure, she never challenges her husband. Again, the doctor's internal dialogue concerning his wife displays his deep misogyny and arrogance. So when Cynthia rises to the occasion at the end of the story, it's quite satisfying.

Since I've finished the book, I've thought about how much I enjoyed Galbraith's defeat by two women who were—as far as fiction goes—quite ordinary women and mothers. And how those two—quite ordinary women and mothers—were transformed into memorable heroes.

Because of the way the dark subject matter was handled in the book, I wasn't surprised to learn that Nicholl has served as a police officer and child protective officer in the UK. An exclusive interview of Nicholl can be found here: Poetry and Chocolate and Books.