BOUND TO WRITE

“..leaving the page of the book carelessly open” – Anne Sexton

Yates’ Revolutionary Road

Posted by Carla Maria Lucchetta on March 30, 2009

revolutionaryroad1The film rights to Revolutionary Road were first sold in 1967. If only a film had been made back then…

I fully intended to write my thoughts and impressions of Richard Yates’ unforgettable novel, Revolutionary Road the minute I closed its final page. Unfortunately the film had been taunting me for too long and I gave in and watched it the very next day. I wish I hadn’t.

Richard Yates, tortured genius that he seems to have been, created what I think is a perfectly written and realized piece of literature in Revolutionary Road. Not a word, sentence, paragraph, character sketch, plot or punctuation point is amiss in his story about the tantalizing and disappointing effect of the American Dream on a young New York couple in the mid-’50s. “Is that all there is?” is still a fairly common question even in the modern world, where people rush to create “the good life” while abandoning their true destinies and then wonder what they missed.

Reams have already been written on the book and its place in the American literary canon. Here are two great articles. The first by American writer Richard Ford, adapted from his introduction to the current  edition of Revolutionary Road. And the second a look at Yates’ work by novelist Stewart O’Nan.

Essay; American Beauty (Circa 1955), The New York Times, 2000, Richard Ford

The Lost World of Richard Yates, Boston Review, 1999, Stewart O’Nan

yates1Now, I’m a huge fan of Mad Men, the AMC television show that is a nostagic and ironic look at the ’50s, which seems to highlight the politically incorrect habits of a few generations ago; the smoking, drinking, the blatant racism, the lunchtime affairs, and the accepted idea that a man’s wife is his property to do with as he pleases, including slapping her around, consultations with her psychiatrist as though she was his child, etc. Some people I know refuse to watch because they just don’t want to remember, and help glorify, a time when people (esp. men I guess) behaved badly. My parents were a young married couple in the ’50s and I think one reason I like the show is because it sheds a  new light on some of their marital issues, on my mom’s love of martini’s and Frank  Sinatra, and also – and this is a big one folks – I like remembering a time when it was customary for men to wear suits and ties and women dresses. A time when people were still courteous and chivalrous (putting aside what some are calling misogyny, which was really just the way it was then, good or bad). Sure the exterior courtesy hid a lot of crudeness and also the need to remain stoic at all times wasn’t altogether healthy. But contrasted with today’s ultra-casualness and too-much-public-information, it sometimes feels like a better place. Men were men, women were women.

Revolutionary Road, written in the early sixties, so was of that time. While there’s an element of disdain for the ’50s, for the smothering of individuals by enslaving them to social dictates, it isn’t looking back from too far off. Making a current film of an age gone by with the actors they chose meant performances that merely mocked the times rather than portrayed them. It was painful to watch. The beauty, the absolute treasure of Yates’ writing is how he expertly portrays the wide divide between how we imagine a conversation playing out and how it actually does. His detail of character and place is unparalleled. All the yelling Winslet and DiCaprio do, combined with the lengthy camera shots portraying pained looks, really doesn’t translate. If made at all, the film should have gone for actors with wider ranges. vintage-yates

I will definitely be re-reading the book in an effort to rid my mind of the Titanic couple (incidentally, I might be the only person on earth who hasn’t seen that film!). For now though, I’ve moved on to Yates’ excellent short stories. Now I know I’m hardly the first to discover the mastery of Richard Yates. My only question is, why did it take me so long!?

*(I found these vintage book covers on various sites around the Internet. Since Revolutionary Road is a book that I want to occupy a forever-place on my bookshelf, I might have to dig to find an earlier cover and pass my current film cover on to a willing recipient!)

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The Flying Troutman long listed for Orange Prize

Posted by Carla Maria Lucchetta on March 17, 2009

flying-troutmansMiriam Toews’ lively and excellent novel, The Flying Troutmans, published by Knopf Canada, is the only Canadian work on the Orange Prize long list, announced today. Winner of last year’s Roger’s Writers Trust Fiction Prize, this was one of my favourite reads of last year. One of those books you fly through because it’s so much fun to read, and when the last page is done, you just want to start at the beginning again.

The Orange Prize is open to books written in English and published in England. The short list will be announced April 21st and the award given out on June 3rd.

Congrats and good luck Miriam!

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Giller International

Posted by Carla Maria Lucchetta on March 16, 2009

Lots of rumblings on Twitter and in the media today about the Giller Prize choosing non-Canadian judges for this years awards. Judges chosen are Canada’s Alistair MacLeod, Britain’s Victoria Glendinning and from the United States, Russel Banks. I say, big deal. And so does Globe Books editor Martin Levin on his blog.

The Giller has sadly developed the reputation, along with other Canadian book/arts prizes, of being too political, and/or biased. Maybe this will help.

It’s hard to believe the Giller celebrates its fifteenth year. I remember it in its infancy and though I haven’t been in the last few years, I fondly remember it as an inspirational and extravagant night for Canadian literature. I doubt that will ever change.

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F.Scott vs. Hollywood

Posted by Carla Maria Lucchetta on March 15, 2009

benjaminbuttonI finally watched The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and directly after read the short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Too much was lost in the translation. The whole story in fact – and its spirit.

I suppose in this case it wasn’t meant to be a loyal adaptation but it’s hard to say why this film was even made at all if it wasn’t going to represent the story.

The bookended clock scenes, and the fact that the story gets told against the backdrop of Hurricane Katrina are conceits designed to make the story contemporary enough to attract a younger and/or non-literary audience. However, these are the elements that try to  make what is meant to be a fantastical tale that is a comment on changing social morrays into an actual plausible story. It fails. Hurricane Katrina was all too real.  This story is an allegory, not an historical fiction. Therefore, the clock scene is not needed to explain/justify the aging backwards. I wonder at the decision making process here. Since they were shooting in New Orleans did they think they needed to make a statement, was it meant as a tribute? Just doesn’t make enough sense to me to warrant changing the story.

bbrussiaParts of the film are entertaining. It’s fun to watch Brad Pitt age, then become young, and younger still. You find yourself thinking more about the special effects employed than the actual character and story. The character of Queenie is pure joy to watch. I also like the addition of Button’s Russian affair (how to not see Robert Redford during these scenes, Pitt looks uncannily like him as an older fellow).

However…

In F. Scott’s story, no-one, not Benjamin’s father, not his wife, nor his son believe that he cannot control his descent from old-at birth to youth-at-death. He’s not taken to a healer to cure his strangeness. No-one is in on the joke. And in my view that is what gives the story, as brief as it is, its tension. Though I understand the idea of a soul connection regardless of age or station in life, etc, there are times in the film that the relationship between Benjamin and Daisy seems a little unsavoury. Like when, as a child, Daisy takes the aged Benjamin underneath her bed to play, and when, at the end of the film, Daisy plays nurse maid/mother to the baby Benjamin. Again, these would not be questions at all, had the backdrop not been a young woman reading an apparently real story back to her dying mother while the most destructive Hurricane in recent memory rages.

In the little game that I play with myself about film vs. literature, literature wins again.

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The value of book reviews

Posted by Carla Maria Lucchetta on March 13, 2009

According to a poll conducted by Globe Books online (so far at least) the  majority of people choose their books based on reviews. Glad to hear it!

I’ve been reviewing books for more than a decade and always try to highlight what I think a potential reader is looking for in a book. I don’t write reviews to appease the author, publisher or other writers. Having said that, you are in a very precarious place when you’re a reviewer who is also a writer. One day your book will land on someone’s desk to critique. Karma and all.

Books, no matter their skill or talent level, always have redeeming qualities and, in my somewhat informed opinion (based on the sheer volumes I have read), they are like people. You can’t like all of them all the time. I try to focus on the positive and on the elements of a book that are universally appealing.

Some of the books I’ve reviewed become personal, treasured, all-time favourites. In the next little while I’ll be starting a regular feature of Bound to Write, called My Bookshelf, where I’ll talk about books I cannot live without, nor live without seeing everyday on my shelf. (my very strong attachment to books, and the life-saving thoughts, ideas and word arrangements they contain is a topic for another — maybe many other posts)

There are a great many book blogs out there, so why should you read this one? Hopefully for the same reason people read my reviews in various publications and tell me they went right out afterward and bought the book.

Thanks for reading!

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BC Book Prizes

Posted by Carla Maria Lucchetta on March 13, 2009

When I lived in Vancouver, 2000 to 2006, I looked forward every year to the BC Book Prizes, an opportunity to celebrate the best books chosen from a pretty talented pool of writers.  Fairly quickly it gave me a sense of how supportive and welcoming the BC community of writers is with fellow writers and book media. It was both inspiring and relieving.

Every year I look forward to the short list, and miss going to the nomination Soiree and the Prize Gala. 2009 marks BC Book Prizes 25th annual ceremony, to be held on April 25th.

Here are this year’s contenders. Congrats to all!

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Books to film

Posted by Carla Maria Lucchetta on March 7, 2009

rroadCurrently I’m reading, and enjoying, Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates, a book that might not have been on my radar if not for last year’s film adaptation. I’ve yet to see the film, choosing as I usually do, to read the book first. I do this because I am generally disappointed by book to film adaptations. It’s not that easy to put my finger on why so many of them are irritating. I mean, it stands to reason that a shorter medium with a wider audience means that elements of the story have to be changed. I bought the film-tie-in edition (no other edition was available) and even knowing, as the cover indicates, that Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio are April and Frank Wheeler is already annoying, just 4 chapters in. It is now not possible for me to read character descriptions without seeing them and I haven’t even seen the film!

In The Reader, for instance, it bugged me that the boy cast as Hannah’s young (underage) lover was really not all that young. The opening scene in the book, in which she picks him up and carries him to a hospital is an important foreshadowing event about their uncanny connection. This new type of coupling changes everything about the story. And again Kate Winslet is in my view the whole time I’m reading Hannah.

(Maybe I just don’t enjoy Kate Winslet? Or perhaps I should have discovered these great books prior to Hollywood?)

At the same time I’m fascinated by the process. I mean, imagine how difficult it was to turn The English Patient, more poetic prose than plot, into a film?

Salman Rushdie recently wrote about this topic for The Guardian. He says, “Everyone accepts that stories and films are different things, and that the source material must be modified, even radically modified, to be effective in the new medium. The only interesting questions are “how?” and “how much?” However, when the original is virtually discarded, it’s difficult to know if the result can be called an adaptation at all.”

The article is a bit long, within it he talks about The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Slumdog Millionaire and other adaptations. It’s well worth the read: A Fine Pickle

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Book of Negroes wins Canada Reads

Posted by Carla Maria Lucchetta on March 6, 2009

larry-hill1The results are in for CBC‘s annual literary contest, Canada Reads. With broadcaster Avi Lewis‘s great defence of Lawrence Hill‘s important book, The Book of Negroes will reap the benefits of increased book sales. It’s well deserved. Congratulations.

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Welcome

Posted by Carla Maria Lucchetta on March 5, 2009

my booksBound to Write is a literary blog that will be a venue for all things to do with books and reading. Book news, reviews, author profiles and Q & As. From Canada and around the world.

Feel free to participate, to comment, suggest topics or books & authors to cover.

And thanks for reading.

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