Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Novelization of the Screenplay of the Book

I don't get this, not even a little bit. According to the biographical notes in the latest New Yorker, Mr. Eggers is going to publish the novel version (for all the kids who read the NYer, I guess) of the screenplay he wrote for Spike Jonze of the Maurice Sendak picture book Where the Wild Things Are. Really? Really?? I had heard rumors, but I didn't believe it.

It's unbelievably terrible. I'm not even one of the people who love the original book (I never read it as a kid, and my own kids preferred In the Night Kitchen) but I'm appalled that Eggers thinks that adding a dumb step-father, a mean sister, and a bunch of overly-familiar family dysfunction somehow adds to the story. What's so wonderful about Where the Wild Things Are is its air of mystery. Nothing is explained, but everything is vivid and real and bizarre. The Eggers version is, tragically, boring. The monsters are given flat, sit-com-like dialogue. By trying to explain the story, Eggers robs the story of its magic, and it soon ceases to make sense.

Why do this? Why put your greasy fingerprints all over a story that was otherwise perfect? What is with this need to take, and own, all the cool things?

On the other hand, I truly loved the Sherman Alexie story that was in the August 10th issue. Many years ago I saw Alexie "read" -- he actually just shut the book and told the story, which was totally cool and impressive. This new story, "War Dances," is about a guy obsessing about his health while thinking about his father's death. I love the way he can so funny while writing about death -- it reminds me of another Native American writer, James Welch, whose perfect Winter in the Blood is also sad and hilarious.

So I guess I'm not about to cancel my subscription. Haha. As if!

36 comments:

Diana Holquist said...

I was just raging about the awfulness of this story to my husband when my 12-year-old daughter said, "The only good thing about WTWTA is the pictures. The story's dumb."

What's really dumb: The New Yorker is now publishing fan fic.

Zach Cole said...

In my eyes, at least, most fiction *is* fan fiction.

jrlennon said...

Sure, except the writer is usually the only fan.

I decline to comment on the story itself, but I do think the New Yorker's decision to publish it is very odd.

sjwoo said...

I canceled my subscription to TNY earlier this year. I'm still not entirely sure why -- it wasn't like I was hurting for money or anything. I'd been a steady subscriber since 1995 (started reading in 1990, at Uris Library). I now have the "subscription" in my Google RSS Reader, but without the guilt-generating stack next to my desk, I'm just not reading it. Thanks for the Alexie recommendation -- I'll definitely check it out. And I'll be sure to avoid the Eggers piece. He's a super cool guy, but even the super cool sometimes end up writing super bad stuff.

It's funny -- I've never read any Sendak because I came to the country when I was 10, but just this week, I got acquainted with the Nutshell Reader, and I absolutely adore it! I keep reading it -- in fact, I should write something about it...

5 Red Pandas said...

I really loved the Sherman Alexie story. It gave me renewed hope for the fiction in the NYer. These days I enjoy the NF more often.

When I first heard about the WTWTA movie/novel, etc. I thought- wow, that's ballsy. Trying to cash in twice, with something that wasn't even your idea!

I'm not surprised that the NYer published it though. Are you really surprised?

Anonymous said...

Why do this? You fail to mention that Sendak asked him to.
"I said yes, mainly because Maurice asked, and also because I love it when there are different permutations of the same story."

Jon said...

Different, and increasing, permutations of the same dollar. I hope he is going to write a novelized version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas, based upon the movie too. And maybe they could write a novel of the movie Breathless, and an actual book with embedded music of Tommy...oh yes, Proust has been cloned to do the 12 volume Cat in the Hat series...

Anonymous said...

I don't think the adaptation would seem so crass if it weren't - as Rhian pointed out - as awful and boring and poorly written as it is.

Matt said...

I don't traffic in rumors.

Incidentally, word on the street is that P. Roth's next book is going to be a graphic novel.

Pete said...

Apparently if you're a well-known writer who also has his own successful publishing company, you can do whatever you damned well please.

Incidentally, I'm going to rewrite The Adventures of Pooh, focusing in painstaking detail on the difficult childhoods of Pooh (explaining his obsessive addiction to honey) and Tigger (explaining how bouncing developed as a response to his absent father). I think it will sell millions.

rmellis said...

You know I was kidding, Matt!

I trying, delicately, to skirt the issue of why Sendak gave the project his blessing, but you, Anon, had to bring it up! No matter whose idea, I still think it's a bad one.

Yeah, I'm surprised the NYer published it -- it's probably the worst thing I've read in there.

5 Red Pandas said...

I don't think that it would have been published in the New Yorker if an unknown author had written it. I do think it makes us uncomfortable acknowledging that fact.

When I first began reading the New Yorker I never thought I would ever find the fiction uninteresting, but I've come to that point. I'd have to think more about why it's starting to become uninteresting to me, but I don't always think that the New Yorker is publishing the best or the most interesting stories, so this story getting published doesn't surprise me. I also think they publish the same writers too often.

AC said...

I was just wondering what Sherman Alexie was up to. Seems like it's been awhile since he came out with anything...or maybe I just missed it. I've seen him before too. Billed as a reading, but it was more of a standup routine. He's a funny guy, although I think he needs to complain less about eating government cheese as a child. We ate quite a bit of it at my house too, and you know what...it's the best brand of American cheese I've ever tasted. Blows Velveeta out of the water.

christianbauman said...

"Unbelievably terrible," is dead on, Rhian. Even if it was Sendak's idea. If Paul McCartney in his dottage asked Elvis Costello to reinterpret Sgt Pepper, I would hope Costello would have the good sense to decline. Screenplay for the movie is one thing (haven't seen the movie, so can't comment on that). Novel of the screenplay? Goodness. Really. And for the record: I was an obsessed WTWTA fan as a wee lad.

As for New Yorker...funny thing, that. There is a New York Times article from some years back where I'm quoted as saying "I was the only private at Ft Eustis, Virignia, who subscribed to The New Yorker." Which was a pretty arrogant thing of me to say at the time, even if true. But whatever. Point being, love The New Yorker, always have.

Two things, though:

1. I have never been a fan of the fiction. My friends always thought it highly amusing that "the novelist" read everything in The New Yorker except the fiction. But it's true. Which is not to say my world hasn't been knocked off balance but some stories in there. It has. Wildly knocked off balance. But maybe four times a year? Maybe five? For a weekly publication publishing fiction in every issue, that's pretty lame.

2. I cancelled my subscription, about five years ago. Not a great political statement. It was just that...well, The New Yorker was starting to eat my head. Not alone, but as a key component of a few things. Because (with the exception of the fiction) I had to read everything in it. Which takes time. Every week. Plus whatever three or four books I'm currently reading. Plus whatever I'm writing. Plus work. Plus mowing the lawn. Plus eating. You know...not much time life for the family. I still read the occasional article on their website, and will buy the mag at newsstand if stranded somewhere. It's still the est magazine in general circulation. But the subscription had to go. I'm happier for it.

rmellis said...

I love the NYer and feel the same way about the fiction -- four or five times a year it's really great. Most issues have a nonfiction article I'm interested in, and I like the comics, and the little bits and pieces in the front. But I don't feel burdened by it -- if a few weeks go by when I only skim the table of contents, that's okay.

It's not perfect, but I like the invisible consciousness behind it: it doesn't feel desperate, or money grubbing, or pandering, or corporate. (Okay, maybe the style issue does.) I'm glad it exists, and I like supporting it.

jrlennon said...

The New Yorker is intelligent and interesting almost all the time, which you can't say about many magazines. I don't always (even often) like the fiction, but is there a magazine on earth that always publishes fiction we like? The New Yorker gets a lot of flack because it's THE BIG VENUE and we know that the COULD publish only the best, and probably they think they do. But it's all a matter of taste.

Plus, we're writers. Regardless of who's in at any given time, we all wish it was us instead. I of course can't help comparing this Wild Things piece to the story of mine they rejected a couple of months ago and want to tear out all my hair--but that's what being a writer is like.

christianbauman said...

Ah, well said, both of you. I do miss my regular injection of the cartoons. Hey, have youse (or all y'all) read Dan Baum's piece about being fired from New Yorker? On his website. Baum's a terrific writer (Dan Baum The Writer is in fact Dan Baum and his wife Margaret); his piece on losing the gig is amusing. You can (or, at least, I can) only be halfway sympathetic, because you can see both the explosions and the easy way to avoid before they occur...but I am halfway sympathetic to him. I still think he's a terrific writer.

I'm sure my New Yorker subscription will return someday. Actually, I promised it to myself at whatever time in the future it takes me only 1 year and not 2 years to write a novel. You have an easier, more relaxed time with it, Rhian. I need to teach myself that I don't have to read EVERY WORD (including the concert listings). We grow...we mature...we better parse the New Yorker.

Happy end of summer, Lennons.

-Chris

jrlennon said...

I didn't devote a post to the Dan Baum thing, as it is publishing gossip. But I think his epic twittering about his firing was a massive, ridiculous embarrassment. He should never, never, never have done that--it made him look like an idiot. I mean, when you're a staff writer at the NYer, you do what the editor tells you. And if you piss him off, you get fired. Whining about it on the internet helps nobody, and it was hardly an expose--it's Remnick's magazine and he can run it how he likes. The whole thing just seemed petty and unprofessional to me, and should have been beneath a reporter like Baum.

And good god, composing the whole thing in tweets made it worse.

As for the New Yorker in general, I think I can speak for Rhian and say that it's an important part of our connection to culture--I like Peter Scheldhal's art writing in particular, and the business column, which addresses, in an engaging way, a subject I would otherwise ignore. Living in upstate New York can make you feel like a stranger in your own country sometimes, and the New Yorker is a reliable barometer of what is considered interesting and important at at any given time. Not that those things ARE what are interesting and important, but they're one idea of same, and I'm glad somebody is out there trying to be the barometer of such things, even if they inevitably do so imperfectly.

Happy end of summer (gulp!) to you too!

jrlennon said...

I'll add one more thing about the New Yorker--because it's so generally solid, we have the illusion that maybe, just maybe, it could be perfect. And when it isn't, we get mad at it. I mean, we don't get mad at, say, the Beloit Poetry Journal for not publishing a blockbuster issue every week, you know? But the NYer has no greater access to perfection than they do.

5 Red Pandas said...

I do think that the New Yorker does what it does very well, but at the same time I don't think that I shouldn't hope for more from their fiction section. I used to think the fiction was great more often than I do now. Makes me think that the current fiction editor and I don't have similar tastes. I'm just noting that.

christianbauman said...

Yes, I guess that is right. We do hold it to a higher standard, and really want it to be perfect. Same with the Times. I cannot tell you what it did to me when whatshername sold herself out to plug the coming Iraq War on the front page of the Times. I knew then they weren't perfect, but still.

I adore The New Yorker and I adore The Times and it's still great fun to be catty about their imperfections.

And yes, Baum embarrassed himself (I was generous when I said "halfway sympathetic"), but I still think he and his wife make one terrific writer.

Derek Haas said...

I used to collect novelizations as a joke. My favorite was the GREAT EXPECTATIONS novelization of the Ethan Hawke/Gwyneth Paltrow movie set in contemporary America.

rmellis said...

I have to say it slightly disturbs me that "Dan Baum The Writer" is actually an amalgam of Baum and his wife... as if she has been totally subsumed by his writerly identity. I mean, Far Be It for me to judge another lady author married to a guy one, but... I do wonder what it's all about.

dunkbot said...

I was aghast to hear of this project. I will say no more...

Sherman Alexie is a wizard, a true star. His simple tales are like peeking through a door of a cathedral.

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