Several years ago, I was transfixed by the documentary about the Ward brothers: Brother’s Keeper. I was horrified to view the living conditions of these brothers and yet at the same time, the simplicity of their lives and the care for one another was in a way very lovely (although that may not be the preferred word to explain the impression I received while viewing the film).
Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky’s Brother’s Keeper (1992) shows the cinematic power of a well-crafted courtroom documentary made over a long time period. The film documents the case of Delbert Ward, accused of killing one of his brothers in the home they shared in rural New York State. Berlinger and Sinofsky got to know the three remaining Ward brothers and their community in the months leading up to the trial. The film’s affection and understanding of this community is what distinguishes it from facile or exploitative television coverage. Delbert Ward’s neighbors and friends (some of them, above) get plenty of screen time, often in close-up. As exemplars of common-sense and decency, they build our empathy for a suspect who has far less on-screen appeal.
Jon Clinch’s novel, Kings of the Earth, tells the story of three Proctor brothers who ‘live together in a kind of crumbling statis. They linger like creatures from an older, wilder, and far less forgiving world–until one of them dies in his sleep and the other two are suspected of murder.’ The novel is very reminiscent of the documentary about the Ward brothers and Clinch says that the Ward brothers were the impetus or inspiration for his novel.
I’ve been reading so many sad novels these days, it seems. This one is also very sad – yet it has much kindness and inspiration and humor and love in it as well. It is very well written!
A paragraph from the book:
I left my galoshes in the car once we got to church . I’d already ruined the floor mats but I didn’t see any point in bringing cow mature into God’s house, not that I guess he cares much himself. He invented cow manure right about the time he invented cows. But he’s got some followers around here who’ll complain about the littlest thing.
I blame my own impatience. If I’d waited to plant the grass until after they’d come to put the year on the stone I don’t guess I’d have had to do it twice. But to tell the truth it seemed like they weren’t ever going to come. And then it’d been winter and what then. So I planted it once and it began to come up pretty well and then they came to work on the stone and it got all trampled down again and I had to do it over. I didn’t mind. You owe some things to the dead even if they’re not your own dead. I guess in some way they’re all your own.