A few months ago, my husband and I watched the film version of John Cheever’s “The Swimmer,” starring Burt Lancaster in tight swim shorts that appear to be a conservative 1960s version of a banana hammock.
The film was surprisingly engaging, despite moments of cheesy dialogue and acting. It seemed that Cheever’s short story inspired the script more than it entirely informed it, what with movies needing dramatic turns, and Burt Lancaster needing more lines than Cheever provided. Still, it stuck to the story way more closely than Everything Must Go followed Raymond Carver’s “Why Don’t You Dance?” Both were born from short stories; both worked.
Would I have enjoyed the films as much if they hadn’t been based on the stories written by two adored literary fiction giants? It’s difficult for me to be objective here, because it’s just plain exciting to me when I discover that great literature has inspired Hollywood. I carry that excitement to the screen, and I can’t seem to put it down.
This is altogether different from Stephen King’s novels getting made into movies. Don’t ask me why; I don’t have a good answer. The best I can come up with is that books that sell well without benefit of a film are not quiet pieces waiting to be discovered, so there’s no “way to go, buddy!” factor, and there’s not the feeling of knowing that more people will be introduced to a great writer through a film. People already know about Stephen King’s books. They’re almost expected to become films. That goes for you too, Kathryn Stockett.
But imagine being a creative writing professor—a writer who writes because writing is what a writer does; a writer who tells students to go ahead, make a go of it, because you too might make it into Iowa; a writer who has to wait a couple of paychecks before replacing worn shoes—and getting this kind of big break. There is a certain kind literary of fame that is intimate, that is not guaranteed except in a specific crowd—and even that would be a fabulous boost for most writers. The paparazzi are not following Lorrie Moore, but, oh!, she does a reading at a university and everyone wants a piece of her attention.
There have been some sweet victories I’ve celebrated with friends and colleagues here in the alt-lit (is that what you’d call it?) community, most of whom would give up a finger even for Lorrie Moore status (with Stephen King success feeling like an impossible lotto win; sell the tickets, and we will buy them). And when these moments happen, it’s a boost for us all. One among us has been recognized! We are here! We are here! We are here!
The ultimate, though, is the ever-elusive movie deal. We know where success lives. We know what’s valued in popular culture. It could happen. It really, really could. One of us here could put out a short story collection, or publish a novel with a small independent press like Atticus Books, and a copy could make it into the right hands.
And then it happens. It does. It can. Because the really great thing about taking chances is that it puts things in motion. And the really great thing about life is that it’s not scripted. Anything—anything—can happen in the next scene.
Tom Howard’s “Twisted” (not to be confused with “Tom Howard’s twisted”) takes self-conscious narrative to new heights, as two old friends regularly meet to work on screenplays together, and one becomes obsessed with the other’s girlfriend. Playful to the end and turning back on itself, “Twisted” makes use of the screenplay form and even delivers a screed on twist endings before—well—delivering its own twist ending.
Duran Gökemre’s flash, “Occidental Accomplice,” sets landscape imagery in motion and zooms in with the precision of a screenwriter’s stage directions. He settles in to what may very well be an artsy perfume commercial, complete with aged European concrete, a falling woman, and the still sea. (But just between you and me, we are primarily publishing this piece because the author revealed in his cover letter that he has a beard and a science degree he is not using. Sold!)
Jim Davis’s poem, “Presentation,” is the daydream response to the familiar complaint: the military defense budget versus education funds. A boy inside listens and watches as a girl tucks her hair behind her ear and talks. She’s always right, no matter what the subject; she always wins. There is no defense.
Photo by Bartosch Salmanski on Flickr