Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Susan Minot's "Evening"

One of my favorite books of the past ten years is Susan Minot's Evening, which is now a "major motion picture." I'm not sure how, or when, or why I first read her work, but I'm pretty sure it started with her second book, "Lust" and then moved back to "Monkeys" and then onto "Evening" which I read in galleys after sharing a cab ride with the author on the way back from JFK to Manhattan. We had just met at a regional booksellers event in Boston and ended up on the same plane back to New York. She was on an expense account. I was not. She offered to pay; it was our one and only conversation.

Susan had attended Columbia's MFA program ten years before I had, and I was surprised to find her firing questions at me about my experience there. She was famous, I was not. The questions were supposed to go the other way around. Did I feel like it was worth it? Did I feel like I fit in? Who were my favorite teachers?

I was working in publishing at the time. "You need to see the world," she said as our cab weaved its way in and out of traffic. She meant it sincerely. And literally. But she said it with such urgency that I was caught of guard and probably a little insulted. And yet she was right.

Like all of her work, Evening is melancholy, almost musical. It plays with memory and repetition and chance. And it has an amazing moment toward the end in which Ann Lord, dying from cancer for the length of the book, has an amazingly unromantic yet inspiring epiphany about the relationship that formed her life. In other words, its unfilmmable.

Still, I was a bit shocked when the ads for the film came out announcing "from the author of THE HOURS." And the clips introduce a plot conflict that seems lifted more from Michael Cunningham's work that from Susan Minot's. I know he's writing a lot of screenplays these days, but there's something mangled about giving credit to "the author" who is the screenwriter, but naming his famous book which he didn't adapt for the screen himself. And I like Michael Cunningham. He's an amazingly nice guy. I'm sure he didn't write the ads.

All of this has made me a bit skeptical about seeing the movie, although it is hot out, and the theater is nearby. Maybe I'll just reread the book. Meanwhile, the New York Times has an interesting story on their awkward collaboration.

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