The New York Times gave another warm, huggy article to gay author Colm Toibin’s vicious anti-Christian “Testament of Mary” in the Sunday Book Review. They’ve praised it as a book, they’ve praised it as a play. On Sunday, they praised it as an audio book, with the bizarre claim of a Christ-denying Mary voiced by ...Meryl Streep.
Times theatre critic Charles Isherwood gave the rave for Streep, "practically a religious icon herself — or an aesthetic one, anyway. She’s virtually been sanctified as the Greatest Film Actress of her generation...Doesn’t it seem inevitable that Meryl Streep would one day play the mother of Christ?" Except Toibin's Mary denies that Jesus is the Christ. That's the part the anti-Christian newspapers really enjoy.
Now she's landed a ripe plum of a different kind, and one that, in my view, provides her with yet another great role. Streep has recorded the audio edition of ''The Testament of Mary,'' Colm Toibin's haunting, austere and deeply affecting book written in the voice of a figure who has gone largely voiceless (if hardly imageless) throughout the history of Christianity: the Virgin Mary...the woman who gave birth to the man who radically changed the course of Western history. (Emphasis mine.)
Notice the “man,” as in “not God.” As Brent Bozell noted about Toibin’s twisted take, Jesus is maliciously promoted to deity by a set of rubes – implying everyone who followed are even less intelligent. Christ’s disciples are “fools, twitchers, malcontents, stammerers,” while her son’s preaching sounded to her “false, and his tone all stilted, and I could not bear to hear him, it was like something grinding and it set my teeth on edge.” She proclaims of the death of Jesus only that “when you say that he redeemed the world, I will say that it was not worth it. It was not worth it.”
Isherwood treats that as merely an interesting backdrop for masterful Meryl, who delivers this bitter anti-Mary character with no attempt at an accent:
The result: simplicity, honesty, a clarity that draws us into the emotional landscape of the book through the beauty of the writing -- and it is as beautiful as anything this gifted Irish writer has produced. But often there is also a simmering intensity, as of overwhelming feeling held just barely in check. And there is, again, the sheer beauty of the voice, which has a cello-like resonance, slightly dark-timbred. Streep has an impressive ability to crest the structurally intricate sentences Toibin has fashioned, which sometimes have the flowing, rhythmic cadences of certain passages in the Bible itself.
Not that Mary's testament lines up with the version of events depicted in the Gospels. On the contrary, her description of the confusion and mystery surrounding the last weeks and months of her son's life differs in key respects from the version of Christian liturgy. Toibin leaves unanswered the question of whether she believes her son is the Son of God, but the clear implication is that she does not.
When the disciples attempting to re-?educate her into the ''official'' version of the story say her son had to die so that ''everyone in the world will know eternal life,'' a bitter note of sarcasm enters Streep's mostly placid narrative: ''Oh, eternal life!'' she dryly says. ''Oh, everyone in the world!''
Isherwood goes so far as to say that Toibin and Streep “belie” the Bible, even as Toibin has written a iconoclastic play-slash-novella, not a stab at history:
Mortal terror for her own life -- the instinct to live that even the official version of the Christ story perhaps grants to Jesus when he asks God that the urden be lifted from him -- came upon her fierce and irresistible. ''I would leave him to die alone if I had to,'' Mary says, and Streep's voice has returned to its rigorously refrigerated tone. ''And that is what I did.''
That, of course, is not the version of events that has been passed down through history, in the Bible and in the innumerable paintings that show Mary tending to her dying or dead son at the foot of the Cross.
Toibin's exquisite book, rendered by Streep with all its detached, quiet, consoling humanity intact, belies those revered images. As Mary says in the final pages, referring to her abandonment of the dying son she had tried so desperately to save, ''It is what really happened that is unimaginable.''
The only breathless praise the Times didn't deliver was "put it under your Christmas tree!"