Holy Fool, by Kenneth Butler … Brendan Malcolm O’Toole has a dilemma. He’s questioning both his faith and purpose. It’s not so much the existence of a God that concerns him, but O’Toole wonders whether he’s worthy of serving. He likes women. In fact, he’s come to crave them. In the small town where he’s trying to hold onto his flock and the church it serves, there’s a young woman hot to trot with O’Toole. While O’Toole struggles with his personal problems, Sissy St. Hilaire has even bigger issues. She’s been a serial adulterer throughout her marriage to her wealthy, materialistic and atheist husband, George. Her kids are going through normal youthful dysfunction complicated by wealth. When Sissy receives a call about George’s recent car accident, her world is turned upside down. Sissy is flummoxed to learn George has taken a change of heart (and soul). He’s become a spiritual man and wants to serve the lord in ways Sissy (and at least one of her kids) can’t fathom (like giving up all his riches to become a priest). She asks George to check into the local loony bin and it’s there she comes across Father O’Toole. There’s chemistry in the air, but George leaves the hospital and nobody knows where he’s gone. The fun starts early on and becomes uproariously funnier with each titled chapter (which are also funny).
There’s a message in the book as well. It isn’t a novel making fun of religion, not by a longshot. The author, Ken Butler, was born a Catholic, lost his faith, and then regained it. He’s also been a playwright and teacher. I met him up in the MFA program at Southern New Hampshire University and can still remember his graduation speech (he had the place in stitches).
Holy Fool is a wonderful read you won’t put down. Clever, cynical, sarcastic, witty and profound. Ken Butler has nailed it. VERY HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
Kenneth Butler was born in Portsmouth, New Hampshire when it was still a blue-collar seaport town. He graduated from Portsmouth High School just as the city was discovered by the artistic, then the financially comfortable, and began on a course that has concluded with a fine and complete gentrification of the city. The most telling symbol for this transformation was the greasy-spoon Teddy's Lunch on Market Square morphing into Cafe Brioche.
Butler was a film studies major at Emerson College in Boston. In 1983, through connections there and sheer favoritism, he secured a job as a Story Editor for Roger Corman's New World Pictures in Los Angeles, where he had a brief and undistinguished career writing script reports on the screenplays in the studio's slush pile. Over the course of the next twelve years, he would return to Hollywood several times to work in various low-level capacities for MGM/UA, the Walt Disney Studios and Columbia Pictures. He also collaborated on five screenplays, all of which met with varying degrees of failure -- or at least no success.
Somewhere in there he got married and divorced (no children), and traveled a half-dozen times to Europe, visiting England, Wales, France, Germany and Sweden.
He returned to New England in 1995 and enjoyed favorable productions of three full-length stage plays -- Chinese Checkers, Cannibals (about the disappearance of Michael Rockefeller in New Guinea in 1961) and A Pound of Flesh. When he failed to secure productions by any major American theatre companies, he threw in the playwrighting towel.
In 1999 he received a BA in Creative Writing from Plymouth State University and taught History and Drama at the Woodward School for Girls in Quincy, Massachusetts from 2000-2007. He also taught eight summers at Phillips Exeter Academy, and one year at the Holderness School. It was during this period that he wrote his first two novels, The Ghosts of Swallowtail, about malevolent spirits in a girls school near Boston, and A Pound of Flesh, a comic caper novel that was also a fleshed-out, expanded narrative which taking its premise (disparate and desperate eccentrics fighting over Grigori Rasputin's preserved penis) from his earlier play of the same title.
In 2012 he received an MFA in Fiction from Southern New Hampshire University, with authors Robert Begiebing, Katherine Towler, merle Drown and Richard Adams Carey as his mentors. His third novel, Holy Fool, served as his master's thesis.
He now lives in New England, where he teaches literature and film courses at a private prep school. He is at work on his fourth novel.
The Judge … we both enjoyed this more than we expected. Robert Downy Jr. does his usual cynical, sarcastic character (I don’t think I’ve ever seen him not play a role this way), but it was the rest of the cast I enjoyed, Robert Duval, Vera Farmiga, Vincent D’Onofrio and Jeremy Strong. Duval is always Duval (and it always works for me) … a hotshot lawyer comes home after a prolonged estrangement from his family (his father, the Judge, Duval, for reason you’ll have to watch the movie to learn) to bury his mother and winds up defending his father in a murder case. Nothing profound, but it was pleasant viewing for a frigid afternoon last weekend.
A Five Star Life … I enjoyed this one solo … mostly because I’ve seen the actress (Margherita Buy) in other eye-talian flicks … she’s a “mystery hotel guest” (someone who rates the service of luxury hotels), but it’s become her life, a lonely one she discovers … there’s a series of crisis around her and her family as she comes to terms with life on the road. Stefano Acorsi is also wonderful in his role as ex-husband in a frightening (for him) new role. A good view any time.
Chef … probably the best of the feel good trio, written and directed by John Favreau … it’s an all-star cast that doesn’t disappoint. Sofía Vergara, John Leguizamo, Scarlett Johansson, Oliver Platt, Bobby Cannavale, Dustin Hoffman, and Robert Downey, Jr. (doing his usual cynical, sarcastic shtick). Lots of fun, start to finish. And the music really truly rocked. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
NEW TK FEATURE STARTING NEXT WEEK …
Okay, so every once in a while, Temporary Knucksline will feature an individual for being anything from interesting to successful to interesting and successful … artistic, a humanitarian, and sometimes for just being a decent human being. Next week we’ll feature a kid I once coached at OLB at Brooklyn College, Vincent Miller. He’s no kid now. Wait’ll you read this kid’s story. Truly amazing.
In a few weeks, we’ll be featuring another success story that also deals with an incredible work ethic and the kind of determination that turns a small family business into a million dollar enterprise. You want clues? Stay tuned, amici … stay tuned.
Taking care of business …