The writer Larry Woiwode knows America to be a land that will never truly renounce Christianity both Catholic and Protestant, and this is glowingly reflected in his fiction about the Neumiller family of North Dakota.
Much of this fiction is in the form of short stories like “The Suitor”, whose protagonist, Martin Neumiller, proposes marriage to Alpha Jones. Martin is a Catholic Christian who receives bad vibes from Alpha’s feisty, drunken father and shortsighted Protestant mother; but the standard attachment to a major institution—i.e. marriage—brings resolution. The parents are happy their daughter was proposed to.
The incidents in “Marie” take place many years later, after Alpha has passed on and Martin intends to remarry. Marie is the youngest child of the couple: she has grown up without a mother and knows she cannot possibly fill the woman’s shoes for the family (“I can’t do anything right”). Yet, as Marie points out, she is the one who’s alive, she is here, albeit Woiwode demonstrates his firm belief in God by making it seem that Alpha Neumiller is not really a person of the past. Somehow she lives too, her death not looked at through a nihilistic lens.
Woiwode is a man of faith whose prose is soothingly subtle and gently penetrating.
“The Suitor” and “Marie” can be found in his book The Neumiller Stories.
Larry Peerce’s Goodbye Columbus (1969) is a Hollywood movie for adults since the Philip Roth story from which it derives is a novella for adults. It is well known that it has to do with the attitude of rich American Jews toward low-income Jews (and vice versa), but when Peerce isn’t proving what a romantic he is, he is imposing on us some ugly, very raffish, and insulting satire. Romantic? Yes, in the scenes where Neil and Brenda, falling in love, are together, and these can be pleasant. Richard Benjamin and Ali MacGraw enact the lovers with savvy and heart. But Goodbye Columbus is pushy and fails to adequately convey the ultimate meaning of Roth’s story (in the diaphragm sequence). It is, I think, worth seeing but just barely.
Suspend disbelief here and there, and you’ll enjoy the Francois Truffaut flick The Woman Next Door (1981) which, though it isn’t saying much, was seen by more Americans than any other foreign film in ’81.
Again, as in other Truffaut movies, there is amatory passion. Adele H. never quite committed adultery, however; Gerard Depardieu and Fanny Ardant do. Woman is about the monstrousness of temptation. Depardieu’s first mistake is not informing his nice wife that before he married he once had a love affair with new neighbor Ardant; he keeps it a secret. Naturally he soon learns that he and Ardant can’t be just friends. The tragedy which ensues is especially jarring in a movie this typically lyrical and basically simple, plainly lacking in gravity. Film buff Truffaut insisted on his achievements being serious but not grave, which is why there is something of Hitchcock in this tragedy. But whereas I am not convinced the estimable Hitchcock was an artist, I believe Truffaut was.
(In French with English subtitles)