When Death Answers Your Letter

A funny thing happened yesterday. I was working on a short story and I reached a point where I was convinced I had written myself into a corner. I had conjured a scenario so specific that I couldn’t see my way out. I put the story aside for the rest of the day.

Except somewhere around midnight, I woke up with a handful of bullet points rolling around in my head. If this, then that, then that, then something else, and it would all work, and it would be even better than I’d planned for the story, which I’ve been battling off and on for the better part of two months. I’ve written entire other stories in the interim.

I was afraid that if I waited until morning, I’d forget all my perfect little additions and changes, so I got up and went into another room to write down these ideas. I got most of them, and the one that I’d forgotten to transcribe was still with me when I woke up several hours later. So now I know I can finish the story. Funny how things work, sometimes.

We watched Collateral Beauty, a movie that has a lower Rotten Tomatoes score than what’s-his-name’s approval rating. Way lower, although audiences seemed to like it. I thought it was okay, up to a point, and then it went a touch too far, and then another. Will Smith plays the owner of a small ad agency who loses his daughter and goes into a spiral. He writes letters to Death, Love and Time. If you’ve seen the trailers, you know that much, and that the incarnation of those concepts show up in his life to respond. What the trailer doesn’t tell you, and what seemed like a pretty terrific idea, is the reason why those concepts are personified by the people they are. They’re there to bring him back to reality so he can make some crucial decisions about his company, and they also connect with his three major partners in the firm—a guy who is having Love problems, a guy staring Death in the face and a woman who thinks Time is running out for her. Pretty slick. Good actors, all, too. But then the movie makes a couple of BIG REVEALS at the end that just destroyed it for me. Sure, there was some foundation laid for one of them (“if only we could be strangers again”), but it requires a lot of the audience to truly buy into it, and the other one was just, well, pointless. Did they expect the audience to go “oh, my gosh?” We didn’t. I just groaned.

We’re on a Stephen Fry binge. We watched the six episodes of Last Chance to See, in which he joins up with zoologist Mark Carwardine to revisit the endangered species that Carwardine had sought out twenty years earlier in the company of Douglas Adams, which was turned into a book of the same name. Now we’re watching Stephen Fry in America, in which he visits all 50 states in six episodes, scrutinizing America through the eyes of an outsider, sort of a pop-anthropologist. He ends up in some very unlikely places (a coal mine and a nuclear submarine, both of which are small places for a man of his stature, a body farm, a parole hearing) and meets a lot of people who have no earthly idea who he is, except for Sting, who does. It’s fun stuff. Light entertainment. He’s a bit of a scaredy-cat some of the time, though. Not quite the intrepid traveler that Michael Palin is.

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