Thursday, May 21, 2009

Weekly Top Ten Part III: The Ten Novels I Want to See Adapted

My only rule this time is that adaptations of these books must have not already happened, and are not currently in the works. So while I would love to put Blood Meridian or The Road by Cormac McCarthy on the list, or We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver or The Yiddish Policeman’s Union my Michael Chabon, they are already being made, so I saw no point. Anyway, here are the books I would love to see turned into movies.

10. The Breast by Philip Roth
Who doesn’t want to see a movie about a man turning into a giant breast? I envision Roth’s scandalous novel being turned into some sort of NC-17 rated animated film like Fritz the Cat (who could it not be NC-17, as the main character is a huge breast, who like to use his nipple as a penis and how could it not be animated?) Roth’s novel is really a perverse twist on Kafka’s brilliant The Metamorphis, and while I do not think it is anywhere near Roth’s best work, it is among his simplest – meaning that it could actually be translated to the screen. So someone get on making this movie.

9. The Garden of Last Days by Andre Dubus III
Andre Dubus III’s first novel, House of Sand and Fog, was adapted into a great movie with Ben Kingsley and Jennifer Connelly a few years ago. His follow up novel, The Garden of Last Days, is even better. The novel takes place in early September 2001 in Miami, and weaves together the storylines of single mom working as a stripper, an alcoholic young man who keeps making mistakes and is wasting all his money at that strip club, and a young Arab man, who is planning to be one of the hi-jackers on September 11th. The novel is not exploitation – it sees all its characters in a complex, three dimensional light – and while it doesn’t seek to excuse their actions, it does seek to understand them. It is a great book, and would make a great movie. I see someone like Todd Field making this.

8. American Wife by Curtis Sittenfield
American Wife would make a fascinating companion piece to Oliver Stone’s W. In fact, I think Stone should reassemble the same cast and make this movie. The book is about a fictional first lady, obviously modeled on Laura Bush, and examines her life from the time when she was a teenager and was involved in a fatal car accident, until she is the first lady of the United States, married to a man she loves dearly, but who she disagrees with or pretty much everything to do with politics and who she believes should not be President. She plays the dutiful wife, but all the while she questions everything she, and her husband, does. A fascinating book.

7. Lush Life by Richard Price
Lush Life is a great crime novel by Richard Price, one of our best novelists. At the center of the novel is a murder, although this is not a whodunit – we know who did the crime pretty much right away – but rather it is about the ever changing face of New York, where yuppies and their neighborhood are right next door to the projects, and they spill into each other. The dialogue in the book is so crisp and perfect, that a screenwriter should have an easy time adapting to the screen. Spike Lee, who made one of his best films based on Price’s Clockers, would be a natural for the material.

6. The Plot Against America by Philip Roth
Philip Roth books have never made an easy transition to the screen – at least without dramatically changing them. But The Plot Against America is both one of his very best books, and also one of his few novels that would be fairly easy to turn into a movie. Set in the late 1930s, a fictional Roth is a child when FDR loses the election to Charles Lindberg, who then starts to draw America closer to Germany, and Adolph Hitler. Jews, like the Roth family, are petrified as it becomes clearer and clearer that they are not wanted in America, as Lindberg’s popularity grows. Roth’s daring novel, which has the balls to say that America wasn’t realer any more fond of the Jews than the Germans was, would be a fascinating movie. May I suggest Spielberg tackle it?

5. Child of God by Cormac McCarthy
Cormac McCarthy is my favorite author right now, but I have to admit that adapting most of his books would be rather difficult. I have no idea how John Hillcoat did it with The Road (but I can’t wait to find out), and I do not envy Todd Field who is taking up the reins for Blood Meridian (McCarthy’s best, yet least cinematic book). But Child of God I think would make a fairly easy transition to the screen. It is the story of one man, who throughout the novel falls further and further outside the social order. He grows increasingly more violent and depraved as the novel moves along as it examines his sexual depravity. Unable to have sexual relationships with women, he descends to necrophilia when he finds a dead woman’s body. Later, he will create more “partners” by killing women to use as his own playthings. Yes, the movie would be difficult to watch, but it would also be fascinating. Who should direct? Clint Eastwood, or perhaps Martin Scorsese.

4. The Post Birthday World by Lionel Shriver
I have started to hate romantic movies, because they are all the same. But an adaptation of Lionel Shriver’s The Post Birthday World, which I know looks like “Chick Lit”, but trust isn’t, would be brilliant. A 40 year old American woman, living with her boyfriend in London for ten years, goes out with a friend for his birthday one year and has a strong urge to kiss him. The novel then splits in two and examines what her life would be like if she decides to kiss him, and hence leave her boyfriend, or not and stay with him. The novel plays out chapter by chapter telling different sides of the same similar events until they come crashing back together 500 pages later. This is a thoughtful, insightful novel on modern relationships – and a reminder that not all novels, or movies, about love have to be stupid. May I suggest that this should be the project that Sofia Coppola tackles next to get out of her “beautiful young women under glass” fixation?

3. The Abstinence Teacher by Tom Perotta
Tom Perotta already has two great movies – Election and Little Children – based on his novels, and The Abstinence Teacher would also make a great movie. It is about a sex education teacher at a high school, who has always prided herself on giving her students accurate, thoughtful information. Then the school board decides to teach a new curriculum – abstinence only – and she fights back futilely. Meanwhile, she has confrontations with her daughter’s soccer coach, a recently born again Christian, who tries to pray after a team game. This is not a novel that takes easy pot shots at Christians or people who believe in abstinence only sex education, but rather a look a complex view of modern life, where peoples values are constantly challenged. Sam Mendes would be a natural for the material.

2. Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris
Anyone who works in an office will recognize at least some truth in Ferris’ alternately funny and tragic novel about life at an ad firm. When the novel begins, the firm is riding high, and everyone is happy. Then slowly, business starts to drain away, and one by one people start getting fired. A highlight of the novel is an extended section on “the boss”, who for most of the novel we view as a cold, calculating woman, but is really just a woman trying to keep her head above water. The book would make a great companion piece to Mike Judge’s Office Space, and the best show on TV, The Office. Who should direct? Judd Apatow (enough of the man children!).

1. A Man in Full by Tom Wolfe
I may in the minority here, but I think Wolfe’s A Man in Full is a much better, much richer novel than his hugely successful Bonfire of the Vanities (which of course was made into a horrible movie in 1989). The novel interweaves three separate stories about three men in different social classes all on the brink of losing everything. It also finds the time to interweave powerful stories about modern day race relations that no director outside of Spike Lee have had the balls to do so far. I have no idea how you could possibly make this into a movie than is under about four hours longs, but I would love to see a director of huge ambition try and do it. That director? Paul Thomas Anderson.

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